Switch: A Comedy of Terrors

by RivkaT

Not. My. Fault. Blame bonibaru.

"Clark, are you seeing what I should be seeing?" Lex swallowed convulsively at the sound of his own voice, or, rather, a voice that was definitely not his.

His face, wide-eyed and paler than it usually looked in the mirror, stared at him from the other side of the string of lights. Which was on, and sparkling, and at least that much had gone right.

"Lex, are you - did we --?"

He looked down, as a distraction from his voice's panicked babbling. Yes, that was flannel at his wrists, blue jeans on his legs, boots the size of terriers on his feet. The hands didn't look quite so big from this perspective.

Hallucination, caused by electrocution and meteor rock exposure? Or something else, caused by electrocution and meteor rock exposure?

He realized that he felt queasy, and was wobbling on his feet. It would not be good to go into shock out here in the cold. Around him, the pine trees the gardeners had transplanted from the Breyer farm to create a Christmasy feel glowed green in a distinctly uncomforting way.

Clark, always better at doing than talking, was clomping through the snow, heedless of the water damage to Lex's pants and shoes, grabbing Lex by the shoulders. "We've got to get out of here," he said.

He half-dragged Lex back towards the mansion, until Lex felt steady enough on his - on Clark's! - feet to walk unaided. He turned back, looking at the cheerily lit side of the front drive as if the Christmas lights themselves had betrayed him.

"It's freezing, Lex!" Clark complained, though he personally couldn't feel it through the other new and exciting messages from his senses. "Let's freak inside, okay?"

The sound of his own voice saying `freak' in that context nearly set him to hysterical giggling. Proof enough that Clark was absolutely right - inside first, panic next.

By the time they'd stomped through the snow back to the kitchen door, Lex had basically mastered the art of walking on bigger feet. He was pretty sure he'd be knocking things over for as long as this lasted.

In the kitchen, shaking the snow off of their shoes and clothes, they looked at each other - at themselves - in shared, stunned silence.

"Okay," Lex said at last, "I'm operating on the assumption that this isn't the result of yet another head injury or a relapse into better living through chemistry. But I must admit, that leaves me at a loss for explanations." Curious, he pushed back the cuff of his shirt and saw a sprinkling of black hairs, which twinged when he ran a finger against the direction of growth. Oh, and he was apparently right-handed now, which was another heaping helping of bizarre.

"Those Christmas trees were glowing when the electricity went crazy," Clark reminded him.

"Contrary to popular Smallville opinion, Clark, `meteor rocks' do not count as an explanation. The range of responses to meteor exposure is a mystery in itself, let alone any one specific physical reaction so far documented!" Lex managed to rein himself in before he started shouting. "This, this, doesn't defy scientific explanation so much as spit in its face and beat it bloody. And you were supposed to leave an hour ago if I hadn't talked you into helping with the lights," he added as that particular complication occurred to him.

"What are we going to do?" Clark asked. Lex didn't much like hearing himself whine.

"For the moment? I think I'm going to the Kent farm, and you're going upstairs to a very nice bedroom."

"But - I have chores, in the morning."

"So come over to the farm - pick a car, any car - and show me how to do them."

Clark closed his eyes. "We'll have to start at four-thirty."

"Ante meridiem? How do you survive?"

"Usually things are a little easier."

Lex would believe that more readily if this weren't Smallville, where new and exciting ways to kill people (often, specifically, Lex) turned up like clockwork. Except during the summer hiatus of blessed memory. He missed summer.

"Fine, you come by at four-thirty and, while we do chores, I will explain to you how to fake it at the plant."

"Oh God," Clark said, obviously realizing only now that he had to be Lex Luthor for an undetermined period. It was going to be rough, for a kid who wanted only to blend into the background and hated to be disliked.

"Everything will be fine, Clark. I promise. What the meteor rocks can do, they can undo." He wasn't convinced of that, but both of them needed some reason not to go completely psychotic, and false hope would do as well as anything else.

Clark scrunched his face - Lex hoped he never looked that confused in ordinary life - and considered this, then nodded decisively. "Okay. We'll talk about it in the morning."

He was gratified, but a bit nonplussed. Maybe Smallville's appetite for the uncanny had simply deadened Clark to the absolute insanity of their predicament. Or maybe Clark really was the ultimate optimist.

Either way, Lex would have to be the one to think their way out of this. As much as he liked Clark, which was roughly as much as he liked breathing, he wanted his own life back. The one with the money, and the cars, and the absence of high school drama except for vicarious enjoyment.

Four-thirty? He'd be lucky if he got to sleep before then.

"Fine. Give me your - never mind," he said as he realized that the keys to the Kents' truck were still in Clark's jeans, which he was now wearing.

"Try not to wake my parents," Clark warned. "Mom might be waiting up. Just say you're sorry and that you got caught up helping with the Christmas trees."

Clark knew that half-truths were better than lies, because they were easier to remember. Lex couldn't help but wonder how Clark gained that knowledge. He turned away, hiding his expression as he realized that he might now have the opportunity to figure out some of Clark's secrets.

"You know the way to my bedroom, right?" he asked, heading out. He heard Clark's soft assent just before he closed the door.

Pausing outside the kitchen, Lex looked up at the night sky. Clark's vision was better than his, and the usual scissors-sharp clarity of the rural nightscape was even more glorious. The stars shone so brightly that it was easy to remember that they were all full-sized suns, some with their own planets, a few possibly even weirder than this one.

His breath condensed in front of his face, but he didn't feel cold.

He felt like Icarus, standing on the brink of a great chasm, ready to fly. But this time, he wasn't going to get too close to the sun. He was going to learn what it was like to have wings, and then he was going to return to earth.

It was a stalker's wet dream, to be so far united with the object of his dark affections as to actually inhabit his body. Obsessed much? Sure, but was that supposed to bother him?

Smiling slightly, Lex headed to the Kents' truck, which was a black bulk against the snow. He wasn't sure he'd ever driven a vehicle of which one had to ask not how fast it went from zero to sixty, but whether it could wheeze up to sixty at all.

The ride to the Kent farm was easy, despite the size and sluggishness of the truck. The roads had been sanded and mostly cleared of snow by earlier traffic, and no one else was about this late at night. He wondered what Clark was thinking, whether he was repelled by the freakish new body in which he was trapped. The experience was likely to add to Clark's knowledge of the profound differences between them, the ultimate unsustainability of their friendship. When Clark saw what it was to be a Luthor, he'd know why Lex didn't have friends.

Think of it as extra incentive to reverse this condition quickly.

The next day was Thursday, which meant two days of high school before he could start researching their switch full-time. That would be a special joy. As a corollary, Clark-as-Lex would have to attend the plant Christmas party on Friday afternoon. And, fuck and damn, the LuthorCorp Christmas party in Metropolis on Friday night.

All considered, he'd rather have a different opportunity to learn Clark's secrets.

He pulled the truck into its spot by the barn and remembered to leave it unlocked. He'd never get used to the trust that clouded the Kents' minds.

As Clark had suspected, Martha Kent was in the kitchen waiting for him, reading through a sheaf of LuthorCorp reports. He wouldn't mind going through those himself, if he could manage it.

Lex opened his mouth to say hello, and then reconsidered. He was already too approval-seeking when it came to Martha, and this was only going to make it worse. But it had to be done, at least this once. "Hi, Mom."

"Hi, honey. You're late," she said without looking up, only a hint of disapproval in her tone.

"I'm sorry. Lex wanted to decorate the Christmas trees at the castle, only it turns out there are about a hundred of them, so it took longer than I thought."

Martha sighed. "I know Lex is your friend, Clark, but you have to be more responsible. I was worried. You could have called my cellphone to let me know you'd be late; that wouldn't have woken your father."

"I'm sorry," he said again, feeling like a heel. He should have told Clark to call as soon as the tree-decorating ruse had succeeded.

"It's all right," she said, rising from the kitchen table. "I needed to read these anyway. But don't let it happen again, okay?"

He nodded as Martha crossed the room and embraced him. She kissed his cheek, then pulled back to examine him. His hands raised, and he wasn't sure whether it was to push her away or squeeze her tight. The look on her face was distant, evaluative, and he swallowed his fear that she'd somehow noticed that he wasn't who he appeared to be. "You're growing up so fast," she whispered. "Leaving us behind."

Lex swallowed around the obstruction in his throat. "No, I'm not. I'd never leave you behind." He could speak for Clark in this, he knew. Tentatively, he put his arms around her and tried to relax. Clark got this every day. Was it so bad to take a little for himself?

"I know," she whispered. He could feel the heat of her cheek through the layers of his shirts. "I'm just being a silly old lady."

"Nonsense," he said with real heat, and she looked up at him, surprised. "You're being a beautiful, accomplished, wonderful mother." He took her hand and pressed a kiss into it. "And I'm going to bed."

He left her smiling after him and hurried up the stairs, wincing when he hit a noisy board.

He'd never actually been upstairs at the Kents' before, but the bathroom door was ajar, which simplified matters considerably. Even better, there was an ancient toothbrush holder with "Mom," "Dad," and "Clark" written underneath the appropriate holes, and he used Clark's brush. The toothpaste seemed different, smoother somehow, but that was probably just a brand difference.

Lex looked at Clark's serious, pretty face as he brushed, careful to reach back and get all the teeth as he was sure Clark would.

Oh, what the hell. He spit and raised his head so he could wag a disapproving finger at Clark's reflection. "Don't do that," he lectured softly. "Because it's wrong." He tried to keep frowning, but ended up just swallowing his laughter.

He noticed the hamper in the corner and wondered what Clark's sleeping attire ordinarily was. Well, a T-shirt and boxers were probably safe. He stripped off the flannel overshirt and jeans, then hesitated and put only the shirt in the hamper. Jeans didn't have to be washed every day. Or so he thought.

Sticking his head out into the hall, he didn't see anyone, so he left the bathroom and tried to figure out which door led to Clark's bedroom. He really didn't want to explain to Jonathan Kent why he'd barged into the master bedroom at eleven at night. Finally, he noticed small nailholes in one door, where a sign for a young boy's bedroom might once have been before it became uncool, and he took a gamble.

He knew he was right when the door opened only halfway before catching up against something. The something turned out to be a pile of clothes, as he discovered when he stepped fully into Clark's bedroom. The moonlight, and the snow reflecting it outside, was bright enough to let him see Clark's single bed, his paper-encrusted desk, and the loose clothes scattered around the floor like clumps of dirt after a gopher infestation.

The jeans looked comfortable on one of the larger piles. Lex was amused to see that Martha Kent's influence had led Clark to make his bed, down to the neat hospital corners, even while the rest of the room was devolving into primal teenage sludge. He pulled back the covers and got into the tiny bed, feeling the cheap mattress sag and bulge underneath him.

Clark really was from a different world, he reflected as he tried to get comfortable, knowing that he was coming perilously close to the behavior of the princess objecting to the pea under her featherbeds. Funny how his father, who had a horror of emotional coddling, had never forced him to rough it in any physical way. It might have something to do with the puny, ex-pudgy child who'd emerged after the meteor shower, sickly-looking and bruised from nearly a year of tests. Lionel might have thought that a physically weak son needed mental toughening more than anything else.

Or he might have had completely different motives. Analyzing his father's behavior had never been a productive endeavor.

His head felt different. It took him a few moments to realize that it wasn't the cheap cotton of the pillowcase. It was the hair, protecting his scalp from direct contact with said cotton. Like another cushion, another shield from the world he'd lost too early.

Lex stared up at the deformed ceiling - had Clark repeatedly bounced basketballs off of it, or what? There were actual dents, not just the usual cracking as a building settled with age.

Wake-up's at four-fifteen, Lex. Try to get some sleep.

Which reminded him to turn to Clark's night table and check the alarm clock. It was set for 7:15. This was a datum for the `Clark Kent' file cabinet in his brain-attic. Even assuming Clark was allowing extra time for incompetence on his part, he thought that a 7:15 AM alarm was a little anomalous.

He was never going to get to sleep. Not wired like this, not that anyone could blame him. The bed smelled like Clark, cheap soap and hay and something almost bitter.

There was one way to relax a bit.

Clark wouldn't have to know.

As he'd hoped, there were both tissues and lotion in the night table drawer. That was enough like permission to satisfy Lex.

This switch was his only chance to get up close and personal with Clark's body (Lord knows not everybody has a body like yours, he thought). He might as well do it right. He stripped off Clark's blue T-shirt and examined his body in the cool moonlight. Solid, well-defined arms, the curves of the biceps and triceps better than poetry, better than getting the reaction to precipitate right after thirty hours of trying. Chest like an advertisement for the Farm-Life Gym, firm pecs and hard nipples rising under his exploring fingers. Warm skin, and he could barely stand the way he reacted to fingertips teasing the small whorls of hair around his nipples. It was almost irritating, and exquisitely arousing. Tight, toned abs around a line of hair leading down under his boxers. Lex lifted his hips and solved that problem.

Well, hello, there, big boy. His cock jumped, returning the friendly greeting. The way the foreskin rubbed against the head when he touched it was another new sensation, and a wonderful one at that. The erection was warm and solid in his hand as he pumped a few times, then reached for the lotion, warming it for a moment in his hands before he reached down and reacquainted himself with his favorite new toy.

He closed his eyes and imagined himself jacking Clark off, imagined enthusiastic reciprocation. Clark's hand on his stomach, stroking as the muscles fluttered beneath the skin. His hand, rolling Clark's balls between his fingers. Clark's mouth, hot as the rest of him, on his neck, biting at his collarbone, traveling down his chest.

He had to stuff a fist in his mouth to silence himself as he came, hips pumping against air, riding the tidal wave of pleasure.

Lex let his hands fall to his sides with a sigh, accidentally slamming one shoulder against the night table. There was a loud crack, and he sat upright in the bed, hoping the Kents hadn't heard.

When he looked over at the table, it was sagging. Closer inspection revealed that the nearer two metal legs had bent, causing the table to tilt as if it were bowing to Lex. The alarm clock was slowly sliding off, so Lex quickly cleaned himself and then put the clock on the floor. The box of tissues and lotion went back into the drawer, which was intact though listing to one side.

His shoulder wasn't even stinging from the impact.

Testing a theory, he reached out and grabbed the table leg at the bend.

It looked to be solid iron, and it bent like taffy when he pulled it straight. The other leg was even easier. He hadn't gotten them quite equal in length; there was a new instability in the table that he fixed with some cardboard torn from the box of tissues.

The goal of relaxation had been achieved only briefly. But he'd confirmed a long-held suspicion, and that felt almost as good as the orgasm had.

When this was over, he and Clark were going to have a conversation. Possibly a loud one. Objects might get thrown, as his mother had been known to do when Lionel had done something particularly declasse. In his dream world, the violence of the conflict would have a direct relationship to the passion of the reconciliation. Reality would probably be less pleasant, but at least he'd know what Clark's friendship meant. In any event, they'd be freed from the cycle of innuendo and denial in which they'd been stuck for over a year.

Just think, Lionel had meant Smallville as a punishment.

Clark examined Lex's bathroom, which was larger than his house's kitchen, with trepidation. There were bottles and jars of things that Lex probably used, but with his luck he'd use them in the wrong places and wind up with a noticeable rash. Then Lex would be all over him for abusing borrowed property.

At least there was a recognizable toothbrush, with toothpaste waiting next to it. He brushed his teeth, staring at the mirror as he did so and watching Lex's face contort around the toothbrush. After he finished, he continued looking at his reflection.

After a brief look around as if someone might be watching, he opened his mouth wide, sucked in his cheeks, crossed his eyes and otherwise played with his new face. He had to stop several times to double over with laughter, but the fun was well worth the unfamiliar ache in his unfamiliar stomach. He scrunched his nose, pursed his lips, raised his eyebrows and winked; he grinned wickedly, scowled, and poked himself in the cheek; he pulled at the skin around his eyes until they were slanted and narrow, leered, and stuck out his tongue.

Lex, he decided, didn't have nearly as many expressions as his face did. Lex tried to hide, even though in Clark's opinion he wasn't all that good at it. He'd clearly never been taught that it took more muscles to frown than to smile. Or maybe he had, and thought the exercise was good for him.

Okay, now he just needed to pee and get undressed.

He stopped halfway to the toilet. In his own bathroom, all he'd have had to do would be to turn around, and he wouldn't have had time to consider what was about to happen. But if he'd been in his own bathroom, the problem would never have existed in the first place.

Calm down, Kent, he told himself. I'm sure Lex isn't having any trouble handling your equipment.

Strangely, that thought was not as reassuring as it should have been.

He forced himself to finish the journey to the toilet and raise the lid.

Okay. Careful observation in the boys' locker room had clarified that he was physically indistinguishable from human guys. There was nothing to worry about. This wasn't rocket science, where Lex really would have had an advantage.

Still, his hands hesitated on Lex's belt.

You're kind of choiceless here, he reminded himself. He fumbled the belt open, then the fly.

After all the buildup, it was almost disappointing that Lex's dick looked almost exactly like his, except for the missing foreskin, and worked the same, at least after waiting a minute for the shyness to dissipate. Using his left hand was also weird, but worked fine as long as he didn't think about it. It wasn't, he thought as he finished up and went to wash his hands, as if he hadn't seen Pete naked. So his hesitance wasn't about modesty among friends.

Now he had to find pajamas. Oh God, what if Lex slept in the nude? It would be Lexlike. Better stick with underwear.

After an initial period in which he tried to use his X-ray vision to scan until he realized why that wasn't working, physical exploration revealed no hampers. He did, however, find Lex's suit jacket tossed across a stool in what seemed to be a dressing room, so he left the tie, French-cuffed shirt and pants (which turned out to have a stealthy extra button on the inside that he almost tore off before discovering) on top of the jacket. The cufflinks went on a dressing table, next to a scattering of others. He left Lex's mom's watch there too. He'd wear something else in the morning. It wasn't his watch, in a deeper way than the rest of the stuff wasn't his.

Lex hadn't been wearing an undershirt, and he was chilly in just - jeez, were those boxer-briefs silk? They certainly were smooth against his vulnerable skin. He looked down and noticed that Lex didn't seem to have any hair anywhere. Not on his chest, his stomach, his underarms, or his legs. It was all smooth, pale skin dotted with occasional freckles over long, lean muscles.

There was a full-length mirror in the dressing room, and Clark examined Lex's body carefully. Funny, he never thought about it, but Lex worked out a lot, and ran himself hard. You wouldn't think it to look at him, maybe because he never wore T-shirts or shorts or even tight jeans. In a fair fight, Lex could probably have given Whitney a hard time. Not that Lex was likely to fight fair, which was part of the point of hiding, he guessed. Too bad that, in Smallville, being strong for a normal guy wasn't as useful as it was elsewhere.

And too bad that Lex hadn't gotten extra strength from the meteors along with baldness and fast healing. Oh, Lex had never said it outright, but his bruises, burns, cracked ribs and other assorted injuries had all disappeared faster than they should have. Clark was grateful for that, but Lex wouldn't have needed that ability so much if it weren't for Clark and the meteors, so it was kind of a wash.

Clark sometimes wondered what Lex thought of the fact that he didn't scar any more. He didn't have a scar from where he'd been stabbed at Club Zero, not one on his body, and maybe that made the ones in his head worse. The same with Desiree, and probably a lot of other incidents, if Lex's offhand comments were any guide.

Because of the healing thing, Lex's body was a lot safer than Clark's had been when he'd lost his powers to Eric. In retrospect, Clark was grateful for the incident, both because he'd learned more about his obligations to the world and because he'd gotten his powers back. This was a similar thing, and therefore it could be reversed just like the switch with Eric. Especially with Lex working on it.

Clark had been standing, daydreaming, for so long that he was starting to shiver. He should get to bed. As he was turning towards the door to the bedroom, however, he realized that the hairlessness hypothesis had not been entirely confirmed, as Lex would have said.

You're going to have to shower tomorrow morning - a few hours from now - anyway, he rationalized. Before he lost his nerve, he grabbed his waistband and tugged it out and down.

Bare as the rest of him. He let the elastic snap back into place, and winced at the sting. He had to be more careful with Lex's body.

Heading back into Lex's bedroom, Clark saw that one side of the bed looked slightly more used than the other three or so acres. A lamp, a digital alarm clock, a book, a box of tissues, and a few pill bottles were on a small table there. He turned on the lamp and then trudged back to the light switch by the far door to turn off the overhead lights. He was sure that Lex had a remote control to spare himself the transatlantic-length journey back and forth, but he didn't want to waste time looking for it.

When he got into the bed, he spared a moment to check the title of the book. `A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again,' it said. It sounded a lot like something Lex would say about some Smallville event, like the Fourth of July picnic.

He set the alarm and turned off the light, then laid back against Lex's expensive sheets. The pillowcase was slick against his head - his bald head, he realized again. The creamy sheets, soft as spider silk, hissed against his limbs as he shifted in the bed. He'd never noticed how hair insulated skin from a lot of sensations, or maybe this was a human thing, but the slowly warming sheets were like hands sliding all over his body.

The phantom hands had their natural effect, and Clark felt his body stir with interest.

No, no, no, no. Also, no. This was wrong beyond standard-issue wrongness. Above and beyond the call of wrong.

The sheets tangled around his thighs, feeling almost liquid as they brushed against his skin.

He was the only one here - in the castle and in Lex's body, both. Who would it hurt? It was normal and natural. Even his dad had said so, in that indirect and embarrassed way when they'd had the talk about girls and being careful and a boy's best friend sometimes being himself. It was safe, safer than touching anyone or anything else because he couldn't break himself, and sometimes it felt like the only good thing in his life. It wouldn't hurt Lex. He'd never hurt Lex.

Clark brushed his left hand down the soft skin of his stomach, smoother and softer than the sheets, and pushed his underwear down. Trailing his fingers across his dick, he was amazed at the slow, inexorable rise of his erection, not much like the sudden hardness that he ordinarily got (often at the worst possible times). His vocabulary was inadequate to describe the swelling, twisting pleasure of it. He could feel his pulse pounding all over his body.

He swept his free hand over the line of his hip, pushing down on the hard line of bone until he gasped. He was sweating now as he grasped his dick more securely and began to move, sliding the delicate skin over the rigid flesh beneath. His thumb brushed against the naked head, bald just like the rest of Lex, and his hips surged involuntarily.

His fingers slipped over and between his thighs, searching for an inch of skin that wasn't fine and smooth and perfect. He could feel the orgasm building, coiling around his spine like a dragon. His panting breath was loud in the silent, dark room.

Clark brought his hand up to lick the palm, and the strange, salty taste of Lex's skin made him shudder. It was like being with another person, only not, and his wet hand resumed its frantic tugging, not caring any more if he hurt Lex's body. He brought his other hand up, tasting Lex, darker and more bitter than the taste of Jessie, or Lana, or Chloe.

And came with the force of a car exploding.

He lay gasping for several minutes before he had the strength to grab at the tissues and do some damage control. He could only hope Lex's staff would replace the sheets before they switched back. And that they wouldn't say mean things about Lex.

Lex, whose skin was like cream and who tasted like leather and wheat.

Oh, this is not good, he thought and fell asleep.

"What are you wearing?" Lex asked with ill-concealed horror.

Clark looked down at the designer black jeans, black cashmere sweater and black wool overcoat. "This was the best I found for farm work," he said, mildly defensive. "You didn't exactly leave me a guide to your *four walk-in closets* worth of clothes, you know. And, hey, what are you wearing?"

"I found it in your bottom drawer. You don't like it?" Sure, the faded red T-shirt was tight. As a matter of fact, one might legitimately say that the shirt went beyond hugging Clark's body to actively sucking on it. But he had thrown on a protective flannel overshirt for the winter morning chill. Though it didn't seem particularly chilly to him, despite Clark's shivers.

"It's just - old," Clark said helplessly and shivered some more.

"Here," Lex said and stripped off the flannel. "Put this on under the coat."

His body looked fairly puny in Clark's shirt. "I look like the `before' picture in a Charles Atlas ad," he muttered, disgusted.

"Hey, no!" Clark protested. "You have a great - uh, a lot of muscles. I was surprised. Because - you usually wear so many clothes. I mean -"

Lex was fascinated. He didn't know that he could blush up past where his hairline should have been.

"--Uh, can we just get started?"

He smiled. It felt natural. "Let's."

It was amazing how many chores Clark had, and how tedious each one was. Feed, sweep, carry, load, and numerous other verbs that Lex had no particular desire to enact.

Clark kept up a stream of chatter about school, warning him what not to do and who was on top of the student hierarchy. Clark's instructions confirmed his recollection that high school society was in many ways more complicated than adult relationships. The kids were making it up as they went along, as if no prior generation had faced the same problems.

Lex, in return, tried to offer a framework for dealing with the plant. On a good day, there weren't important issues needing immediate decisions.

It was too much to hope for a good day, so he didn't bother. It was more practical to try to give Clark a two-hour MBA. Clark listened and gave the right answers when questioned; Lex would have to trust Clark's basic good sense.

He noted with interest that Clark didn't try to lift anything heavy, leaving that to Lex. Clark wouldn't want to struggle with weights that Lex could lift effortlessly. Even assuming a body used to farmwork competing with a gym-made body, the disparity in exertion required would be too obvious. Clark was getting more subtle in his deceptions, which was a good thing. Lex didn't want any more Nixons. The ease of lifting was of separate interest: Lex found he could gauge relative mass fairly easily, while at the same time exerting almost no effort, no matter how heavy the object. It would be interesting to test the upper bounds of that strength.

At one point, a blushing Clark asked why Lex had eyebrows and eyelashes.

"Looking in the shower, were we?" he asked wryly, and Clark dipped his head, showing another expanse of flushed skin. "Implants, Clark. Expensive and painful implants. It took my father's plastic surgeons three years to get it right. I was probably the only ten-year-old boy in the world who knew how to put on fake eyelashes."

Clark winced in sympathy. Lex wondered what, if anything, Clark knew about physical pain. There had been that one time where he'd seemed to have actual injuries, cracked ribs and bruises.

"Don't worry. Now that they're in, they're very hard to get out; you can even rub your eyes."

Near the end, they ran into Jonathan Kent, who executed a classic double-take at the sight of Lex. "Clark?" he asked, his voice heavy with menace.

"Lex wanted to see what my chores were," Lex said in the voice of perfect innocence.

Jonathan scowled. "I hope he's not slowing you down too much," he said, and, in his peripheral vision, Lex saw Clark twitch guiltily.

Even absent the current personality transplant, Smallville was too much like living in a murder mystery without any body. Clues and red herrings abounded, but he couldn't be sure there was an actual plot.

"We're almost done. Can Lex come to breakfast?" He blinked his doe eyes at Jonathan, who looked as if he'd smelled a high concentration of sulfur gas.

"I'll tell your mother to set another place," Jonathan begrudged.

"Before you go to the plant," Lex said quietly as they walked away from Jonathan, "you'll need to change into a suit and tie. It shouldn't be easy to clash, so don't worry too much about it."

Clark rolled his eyes, but didn't say anything.

"Mr. Kent, can you tell us about carboxyl groups?"

Beside him, Chloe groaned softly, anticipating a lecture on paying attention in class.

Lex's head snapped up from his idle sketch of his latest Porsche. "Carboxyl groups, one carbon atom, two oxygen, one hydrogen. Carboxyl is a monovalent radical that acts as a weak acid, based on a phenomenon known as resonance having to do with the double bond between the carbon atom and one oxygen atom. Resonance aids in ionization and a carboxyl group can thus be distinguished from an alcohol, which also has an -OH bonded to a carbon atom but, like water, ionizes barely at all. The four main types of reactions of carboxylic acids are chiefly due -"

"Thank you, Mr. Kent. That will be quite enough." The chemistry teacher looked as if he were having an attack of heartburn. It was an expression Lex had often enjoyed putting on teachers' faces.

Chloe and Pete - hell, all the students - were gaping at him as if he were an alien. Which, of course, was pretty much the case.

The teacher turned his attention to another victim, reasserting his authority, and Lex manfully avoided smirking, which would doubtless only earn Clark the teacher's enmity.

The bell couldn't have come at a better time, in his opinion.

Outside the classroom, Lex paused and pulled out his cellphone. Clark picked up on the first ring. "Lex! Thank God. Someone named Parker called and says he won't go lower than forty-seven, and you should call him back before three."

"Call Parker, tell him forty-three and I know that DeWitt will do it for that much but I'd prefer to stick with him. Parker will cave."

"What if he doesn't? Forty-seven what?"

"Don't worry about that. I'll call again at lunch. Anything else?"

"Some personnel stuff from Mr. Sullivan."

"Give Gabe whatever he wants, he's great with personnel."

"Lex, I'm really uncomfortable -"

Principal Reynolds was standing in front of him. "Gotta go." He snapped the phone shut. "Hello, sir." This was actually helpful. Standing in front of the man, he almost felt fourteen again. Though Lex at fourteen was probably more like Lex at twenty-two than Clark at sixteen.

"Mr. Kent, you know cellphone use is prohibited on campus." He held out his hand.

Fuck. Fuckity fuck. "Yes, sir," he said and turned the phone off before handing it over. The last thing Clark needed was to have the principal answer a panicked call. "May I retrieve it after school?"

The principal harrumphed. "Yes, you may." He turned and stalked off to harass some other, more undeserving student.

Pete appeared and nudged his shoulder. "What is up with you, man? Spouting chemistry, ordering someone around on the phone - you haven't been hanging around any red rocks, have you? Let me see your hands."

This grows from strange to stranger, Lex thought. Clark would submit to an inspection, right? But he would say something. "What are you talking about, Pete?" he asked as he held out his hands and Pete examined each finger, his wrists, and then tugged at his collar as if checking for hidden jewelry.

"Class ring? Red meteor rock? Strange Clark Kent behavior? Am I ringing any bells?"

Chloe approached, raising her eyebrows at Pete's patdown. "First Clark goes all Mr. Peabody, now Pete's conducting physical exams? What is this, fantasy career day?"

"Nothing's going on," Lex said, mind spinning a thousand cycles a minute. "I've just been studying. You know, Lex is really good at chemistry. He helps me sometimes."

"I'll bet he does," Chloe said, and he turned a jaundiced eye on her. That girl definitely bore watching.

At lunchtime, Lex called again.

"You didn't tell me you had a trigonometry test."

"Hi, Lex. Um, how'd I do?"

"Your teacher seemed bothered when I gave the test back to her after five minutes. She asked if I was all right. Then she actually looked at the test. This is turning out to be fun, after all."

Oh, sweet Jesus. "Lex -"

"Relax," he drawled, and if it weren't for the difference in pitch, Clark could have forgotten that Lex was wearing Clark's face, could have treated it as just an ordinary call between friends. "I'm not getting you into trouble. Much. So, blown up my plant yet?"

Clark kept Lex on the phone for half an hour, talking through his responses to all the messages that said "urgent." He didn't quite believe Lex's claim that most of them were not urgent at all; he suspected that Lex was trying to make him feel better for screwing up LexCorp. Lex employed thousands of people! And Clark had the power to destroy all that. It was worse, somehow, than having the power to destroy a building.

"Where are you, anyway?" he said when Lex explained that he couldn't use the cellphone any more.

"The Torch office," Lex said. "I skipped lunch -"

Clark gasped in horror. "You did what?!"

"It's not a problem, I practically ate an entire horse this morning, as you may recall."

"Lex," he said, "you ate less than I usually do at breakfast. And you can't skip lunch. Do the words low blood sugar mean anything to you? Look, in the bottom right drawer in the big desk, Chloe keeps an emergency Kit Kat supply. Open it up and eat every single one of them. I'll replace them later."

There were clunking noises as Lex complied. "Hmm," he said after a few moments, "I guess I could eat. You know, this stuff's not that bad. Oh, God, your palate! I mourn for the youth of Smallville. Remind me to buy you some real chocolate. And stop calling me - that name. Anyone could walk in."

Yeah, Lex was cranky, a sure sign that a massive food infusion was required. Unfortunately, aliens couldn't live on Kit Kats alone, and Clark was very afraid of what a hyperactive Lex would do when school let out.

"I'll pick you up right after school," he said, resolving to stop on the way for some sandwiches.

"You know, when I do that, it must look - never mind. Just don't crash my car."

Clark's free period was, he was reliably informed, generally spent in the Torch's offices. Lex was grateful that the Torch was one of the few places in the building he could find on his own, because it looked as if he'd be having regular recourse to it.

When he opened the door, Lana pulled back from her position about half an inch from Chloe's head. Her hair had been brushing Chloe's shoulder. She straightened up at the sight of Lex (well, of Clark) and he thought that someone ought to give a seminar to these poor kids about how not to look guilty.

"Hi, Clark!" she chirped, and Chloe looked up, smiling widely.

"Hey," Chloe added. "I've almost got the layout done. My expose on kickbacks for football team uniforms is going to be the lead article."

"That's great," he said, because it seemed like a Clark thing to say. "Is there anything I can do?"

Chloe shrugged. "Just the usual proofreading. Unless you'd like to go undercover as a football player." Lana giggled, and he shot her an annoyed look. Or meant to, but somehow his gaze got hung up on her perfect skin and shiny hair and actually rather nice breasts.

He looked away, cursing Clark's rebellious teenage body - surely he himself had gotten through this uncontrollable stage in short order.

"So, Clark, have you picked a poem for next week's English recital?" Lana asked.


Chloe snickered. "Clark Kent, keen observer. You know, the poems we have to memorize and humiliate ourselves in front of the class with?"

"What are you doing?" he asked, in standard Clark conversational ju-jitsu form.

"I was thinking of The Second Coming," Chloe nattered on. "It's so ... portentious."

"'Turning and turning in the widening gyre,/The falcon cannot hear the falconer,'" he agreed.

"Don't tell me you want to do it too!" she said, her eyes widening comically.

"No. Good poem, though. What about you, Lana?"

"Richard Corey, I think. By Edward Arlington Robinson."

How very Holden Caulfield of her, he thought. "'He was a gentleman from sole to crown,/Clean favored, and imperially slim.'" There might be an insult in there, since he was the obvious Richard Corey candidate for Smallville. But Lana of the dead parents probably just thought that suicide for unknown, unknowable reasons was romantic. He really ought to pay more attention to what Nell was teaching the girl.

"Wow, you've really been paying attention to the reading, Clark. How about you?" Lana asked.

It was ignoble of him, but he wanted to get a bit of his own back after she triggered such an embarrassing physical reaction in him. He looked at the girls, reserving a little more eye contact for Lana. "D.H. Lawrence, Figs. `The proper way to eat a fig, in society,/Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,/And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower./Then you throw away the skin/Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,/After you have taken off the blossom with your lips./But the vulgar way/Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.'"

They were both flushed, dewy-eyed and open-mouthed when he stopped. It got misogynist pretty quickly after that part, and the intended effect would have been ruined.

Chloe swallowed, and he took the opportunity to look down her blouse. "Well, that's ...."

"Too suggestive?" He let her see his eyes traveling back up to her face. She blinked up at him and shifted in her chair. He wasn't as mad at Clark's body for its reaction to her. Hell, if he'd been Clark's age, he'd have been exploring that landscape for at least a year now.

"Is that even in the book?" Lana asked, weakly.

He shrugged. "How about that proofreading?" he asked.

"Mr. Luthor?"

"Yes?" Clark said into the phone, pleased that he hadn't paused in confusion this time.

A horrendous screech made him jerk the phone away from his ear, and then he had to bring it back to listen to the voice again. "Uh, this is Bob Bryce, down in Processing? We have, uh, a bit of a situation."

Oh darn. "What kind of a situation?"

Another wail, as if a cat the size of the Goodyear Blimp had just gotten its tail stepped on.

"Uh -"

"I'll come down," he said and put the phone in its cradle. Right, because it was just too much to ask of the universe to hold off a crisis at LexCorp until the CEO was back in his own body. Clark opened the drawer in which he'd stashed a handy map of the plant. Processing was maybe five minutes away, five minutes for things to go from bad to worse.

Clark sighed, got up from behind the desk, and headed out. "I'll be down in Processing," he called to his assistant (secretary? Lex had said something about being PC, but he wasn't sure whether Lex was pro or anti) and charged out before she could respond. At least he wouldn't have to be taking sales calls from people selling things he was supposed to understand. Lex's job seemed a lot like what soldiers said about combat: long stretches of boredom punctuated with episodes of sheer terror.

He could hear the problem long before he saw it. Blasts of noise came down the hall, leaving his ears ringing when they stopped, and starting again as soon as he started to recover. He passed a number of people heading away from the sounds, which had some sort of rhythm to them, and wondered if he shouldn't emulate them.

By the time he came through the double doors into Processing, he had his hands clamped around his ears, not that it did a bit of good. Going through the doors gave whole new meaning to the phrase `wall of sound.' Clark had punched through concrete that was softer than this. One man, whose nametag confirmed his Bob Brycehood, was holding a broomstick like a makeshift pike, waving it at someone whose hands were up aggressively.

Chuck Behrens. The kid the football players called Chupa Chuck. Brown hair, brown eyes, a few extra pounds about the waist and face. Nobody remarkable.

Until today. And in Smallville, maybe not even now.

"What's going on?" he yelled/mouthed at Bob.

"We let his dad go for excessive tardiness last week," he made out during a pause in the noise, which up close was beginning to seem familiar. He couldn't hear Bob well because of the temporary near-deafness, but he could read lips to make up the difference.

Clark searched his brain for information about Chuck. Just another ordinary kid, staying on the sidelines like Clark. He had a fondness for, what was it?

Air guitar.

His mouth fell open, and if it weren't for the stunning power of the chords emanating from Chuck, he would have asked straight out how someone's most profound wish could be to play air guitar. Revenge, easy death, even bugs he could comprehend, but air guitar? That was just lame.

"Remy Zero, right?" he yelled, and Chuck paused in his endeavors, looking at him as if he were the one acting crazy.

"You like Remy Zero?" Chuck asked, wide-eyed.

"Sure," he lied, mentally taking back all the times he'd mocked Pete for playing the CD over and over and over. "But I'm not sure everyone else here does."

Chuck straightened and moved his hands back into strumming position. "That's right! That's why I'm here. To make you suffer the way we're suffering."

"Who's we, Chuck?" He was yelling, even though he could barely hear himself through the cottony feeling in his ears. Lex was good at calming people, but not while yelling.

"Me and my mom. You don't know what it's like! `Clean this place up! Turn that music off! Get me another beer!' It wasn't so bad when he had a job, but now he just sits and drinks and yells -"

"Chuck, do you know why your dad lost his job?"

The kid's face darkened further. "No."

"He didn't show up for work on time, so other people couldn't do their jobs. Do you think maybe his drinking had something to do with that?" He was able to talk more softly now, though he had the feeling his ears would be ringing for hours.

Chuck shrugged, ashamed. "I dunno." Clark recognized that variety of `I dunno.' Translated from the Teen, it meant, `Of course.'

"Would it be okay if someone from the plant called, and talked to your dad about maybe getting some treatment for that, so he could come back when he was ready to do the job?"

"I guess so."

"That's good. Why don't you let these guys go back to their jobs, and you and I will go meet someone who knows how to talk to people like your dad, people who need a helping hand." He was just rambling now, but he'd seen Lex do this before, and it required a steady stream of patter until the crisis passed.

Chuck considered for a moment. "Okay."

"Great," Clark said and smiled at Chuck, who looked a bit surprised at this turn of events. "Bob," he said, turning back to Lex's employee, "why don't you get things running again while I take Chuck over to Human Resources?"

Bob, looking almost as shell-shocked as Chuck, nodded and made way for the two of them.

"Mr. Luthor," Chuck said as Clark paused in the hallway, trying to figure out which way Human Resources was, "what's your favorite Remy Zero song?" While Clark struggled to remember the name of a single Remy Zero song, he added, "And how did you know my name?"

Principal Reynolds opened a desk drawer and retrieved the cellphone. He made as if to hand it back, then pulled away at the last second. "I want to talk to you, Mr. Kent."

Fabulous. He needed to get home right quick, and God knew what Clark was doing to his car. But he knew that resistance would only make the principal more determined. "Yes, sir?"

"Since we had our talk, I haven't seen any improvement in your extracurricular participation, or any moves in the direction of becoming a serious journalist."

Lex considered this. He felt jumpy, as if he had to get moving, but he had a chance to make things better for Clark - or worse -- and he didn't want to screw this up. "Mr. Reynolds, may I speak freely for a moment?"

The principal swept his hand around in invitation. "Have at it."

"You've never worked on a farm or taught farm kids before, have you? Do you know what time I got up? Four-fifteen a.m., three hours of chores before school, and at least that much waiting for me when I get home, plus homework. Look, sir, you and I both know my grades and scores are good enough to get me into Met U, which is all I want and all my parents can afford. I really appreciate what you're trying to do for me, but my family and our farm are more important to me than extracurricular activities. I have a forty-hour-a-week job and I go to school and I try to have friends. I just - maybe if you see how the world looks to me, you might - I'm not trying to defy you. Really I'm not."

He paused for breath, hoping he'd hit the right notes of teen stress and appeal to the principal's work ethic.

Principal Reynolds frowned. "I hadn't realized all that, Mr. Kent. Couldn't your parents spare you a little more?"

"A family farm's always one bad year away from financial ruin, sir. We can't afford another hand." In point of fact, Clark seemed to do the work of three hands, and Lex wasn't entirely sure how he managed all those chores on a regular basis - but that was a matter for worrying over another time. "And, sir, I do good, honest work. I don't think I need to be in the chess club to learn about responsibility and teamwork." That was pushing it, but it was also true. Of everyone Lex had ever met, Clark was the least in need of constructive activity to build his character.

"You've given me a lot to think about, Clark." The principal finally surrendered the cellphone, which Lex took with relief.

"Thank you, sir," he said and fled out into the cold afternoon light, straight to the parking lot.

Clark, he saw, had taken time to switch the morning's Lamborghini for an electric blue Porsche. The window was rolled down, and Clark was looking around the parking lot, waiting for him. And -

"What is that?" he asked, pointing a shaking finger at the lump of fabric at Clark's throat.

"I, uh, couldn't tie it left-handed. Ms. Hall offered to fix it, but ... Um."

Lex leaned over and began tugging at the tie. At least Clark had turned Sherrie down; God knows what the woman would have thought she could get away with if he started letting her touch him.

"Lex!" Clark hissed. "Don't you think you ought to get into the car? People are looking."

He straightened, carefully, and walked around to the passenger side, saying with the set of his shoulders that anyone who wanted to make an issue of his behavior had better do it to his face.

Clark peeled out of the lot with enough aggression that no one would suspect anything out of the ordinary, Smallville-style.

"Eat those," he said, gesturing with one hand at a brown paper sack between them. Lex picked it up, noting that it was about to leave grease stains on the leather. He bit his tongue on a complaint, then unwrapped the contents, because he was rather hungry.

"What were those?" he asked a few minutes later, as Clark made the turn to the castle.

"Meatball sub, eggplant parmesan sub, chicken salad on whole wheat, and salami on rye." He shrugged, looking embarrassed. "I like them and I guess you've got my tastebuds."

Lex finished wiping his fingers clean and stuffed the used napkins into the paper bag. "Please don't tell me what you ate in order to figure that out."

Clark pulled into the driveway and made as if to head to the garages.

"Leave the car out front," he ordered. "It'll look more normal."

Clark sighed and turned off the engine.

When he got out of the car, Lex hurried around to meet Clark at the driver's side. "You are not going inside with that knot." Bad enough that he'd wandered around the plant like that; Lex wouldn't have the servants seeing him like this, particularly those who reported to Lionel.

Quickly, making no concessions to his unfamiliar fingers, he untied the mess Clark had made and decided on a half Windsor. "Cambridge physicists using a branch of mathematics known as knot theory have identified 85 ways to tie a tie, Clark. `In an elegant world, an irreproachable tie knot is an essential part of one's toilette; it does not matter whether the knot is simple or complicated, because the art is what counts.'"

"Well, tomorrow you can come over and tie it on three hours' sleep," Clark grumbled.

Lex paused, his hands on Clark's lapels, enjoying the contact. Enjoying it a lot; Lex hadn't thought that sixteen was all that far from twenty-two, but Clark's body was more primed to react than an Israeli air force base.

He stepped back so that they could head inside and thought.

Clark's body reacted to Lana and Chloe, but it also reacted to Lex's body. It was possible that Lex was totally responsible for the latter, but he hoped not. The mind/brain problems raised by this transfer were stunning - from his hunger-driven crankiness to his frankly icky Lana-lust, he wasn't purely Lex in Clark's body, but a Lex-like presence subject to Clark's biochemical whims. If only Clark weren't certain to lie about his corresponding experience, they could learn so much.

He sniffed as they entered the foyer. "Something smells good."

Clark failed to suppress his grin, which in truth had more smirklike qualities than grinlike qualities, as Lex diverted from his planned course and headed towards the kitchen.

"Hello, Clark!" the cook greeted him. "I thought you might be coming by, so these are for you." She handed him a plate of light brown cookies with hash marks on top.

"Thanks, Susan," he said, grinning at her until she blushed.

"Yea - yes, thank you, Susan," Clark repeated. "Are they all for Clark, or am I allowed to have some?"

Up close, the cookies smelled even better. "Get your own plate," he said and shoved a cookie in his mouth. It was nutty and sweet - peanut butter, he recognized at last. It tasted good. No wonder Clark often seemed as out of it as a Cameron Diaz character. With his body demanding five times its weight in food every day, like a hummingbird's, it was amazing he could even focus on non-sustenance activities.

"Are you sure you should be eating all those? After all the Kit Kats?" Clark asked, and he was obviously trying to convey some message.

Susan was watching them with discreet fascination. Just great. Fifteen minutes from now, the entire staff would know that `Lex' had been scolding `Clark' like something from a Bert and Ernie routine. And everybody knew that Bert and Ernie had been playing hide the rubber ducky for years.

"I'll be fine," he said, trying to warn Clark off. "Thanks again for the cookies!" he said brightly, and headed out. Clark, looking put out, followed in his wake.

"I'm serious, Lex," he said, low-voiced in the echoing halls. "That's a lot of sugar."

Lex made a tut-tut sound, gesturing dismissively with one cookie-filled hand. "Anything I should know that won't be in my email?" he asked as they went down the main hall towards Lex's office.

Clark hesitated only briefly. "I don't think so. People were talking about an office party tomorrow?"

"Yes, the annual-from-now-on Christmas party. It's going to be very nice. A reward to all those who backed up their commitment to the plant with their own money. And a demonstration that the new boss is not the same as the old boss. You're going to have to shake a lot of hands and kiss a certain number of babies."

"You'll be there, right?" Clark asked as he shut the door behind them.

"I don't think so," he replied, heading for his desk. "It would be awfully hard to explain your - my - presence, since your mother works for my father, a.k.a. my deadly business rival, and your father wouldn't touch LexCorp with a twenty-foot pole."

"You could order baked goods from my mom, and then I - I mean you - could stay after you delivered them."

"Yes, Clark, let's disseminate my lame -" Lex shut his mouth and concentrated on entering his password.


"Never mind. No, you've got to do this alone. You should go over the employee roster at work tomorrow. The one in my office is annotated with relevant biographical notes. You can call me if you have trouble with the abbreviations. The most important thing is: first names. If you start saying `Mister' and `Mrs.', they're going to think I'm making fun of them. Other than that, it should be fine. If anyone corners you with suggestions, just punt."

Clark was silent, which meant he thought he could do it.

"But I have to go with you to the LuthorCorp Christmas party in Metropolis tomorrow night," Lex continued. "There's no way I'm sending you into that shark tank alone. How are we going to explain that to your mother?"

"I could just - you could just ask. It's a trip to Metropolis, and you could ask to go with Mom, not with me."

"That's - a good idea," Lex acknowledged. "But I'll still need to brief you before the party. I'll send an email to Sherrie asking her to assemble a dossier based on the invitation list, so you can see the pictures."

Clark nodded. "I should probably do my homework."

Lex waved a hand at the backpack lying abandoned by the couch. "Have at it. I added today's assignments to that section of your binder."

"You shouldn't do things like finish the trig test in five minutes," he said as he dug for a book. "I really - you need to keep my head down."

Lex looked off into the distance, remembering. "I never had that option," he said slowly. "My appearance, my family - I decided that, if I was going to be different, I was going to be different on my terms. Show them there was nothing wrong with me. It's who I am, now. But you're right, that's not you. I'll do better."

"It's different, in Smallville. And I don't really have anything to be proud of."

Lex's eyes flickered back to Clark's face. He looked sincere, which counted for exactly squat, but he was probably telling the truth as he saw it. "Bravery, loyalty, a loving family - I think you've got a long list. Not that I'd expect this town to notice. You shouldn't have to hide who you are."

Now it was Clark's turn to look away. "Maybe sometimes, hiding is easier on everyone."

He smiled, because it wasn't time for that conversation. "I can't say as I ever considered others' feelings on the matter. I don't doubt that you're right."

The office fell silent as Lex caught up with his email and worked his way to the bottom of the plate of cookies while Clark conjugated verbs. This close to the end of the year, there were plenty of reports to review, including the draft of the one for the shareholders. Even though they were all Smallville residents, one had to be careful what one said. "Under the new management, we experienced no deaths and virtually no property damage attributable to meteor mutants," for example, was not likely to make it into the report, even though it was both true and a considerable improvement on the previous year.

It would be worth a few laughs if he did put it in, though. He'd been mischief-free for so long. There'd be no harm in one little joke. His fingers hesitated over the keyboard.


He looked up. "Yes, Clark?"

"Want to shoot some pool?" Clark's backpack was full and shut, homework finished. Lex would have thought that the `I'm such a cute puppy, won't you play with me?' look was restricted to Clark's actual face, but apparently it transferred with the personality.

He looked down at his laptop screen. The report would be fine without immediate attention, unlike Clark. "Sure."

Unfortunately, as he swiftly discovered, he'd left his pool-playing skills in his other body. He couldn't seem to stay still enough, and, though he had generally accommodated to being right-handed, he kept feeling that he was on the wrong side of the cue. Not to mention that bending over the pool table and fondling long phallic objects was more than enough to make him half-hard, which convinced him further that he needed to get Clark laid, even if only by Lana.

He unbuttoned the flannel shirt and tossed it onto the couch, which helped cool him a little. Clark's eyes followed every move, but he didn't say anything, just jerked and blushed when Lex reminded him that it was his turn.

After Clark missed his shot, Lex determined that he ought to focus on the game; he needed to get this body under control. In order to get the two ball into the side pocket, Lex needed to reflect the cue ball at about 32 degrees off the foot rail with a fair amount of force, which itself required a complicated bank shot. After positioning the shot, he brought the cue forward in a short, sharp motion that should have produced the intended result.

Instead, as he watched in fascination, the cue ball rocketed across the baize, crashed into the side of the table, jumped up - leaving a largish dent in the mahogany - and, like a round kamikaze plane, shattered itself against the marble surrounding the fireplace. Cracks radiated out from the point of impact like a sunburst. Meanwhile, Lex noted, the path the cue ball had taken was clearly marked on the bed of the table by a scorched trail.

After he'd stared at the wreck for a few moments, he turned to Clark, who had much the same expression as a concussion-stunned fish.

Had he thought Clark was getting subtler? The more fool he. He almost said, `Next time someone's in your body, Clark, suggest yoga instead.'

Rather than speak, he raised an eyebrow, offering Clark the chance to make up an unconvincing explanation. He was accumulating quite a collection of those, and hoping to get a complete set any day now.

"Wow," Clark said at last. "I guess that ball must have been defective."

Lex's brain would have to have been defective to buy that one, and Clark's expression showed that he knew it. Really, that ranked well below `adrenalin' and `metal fatigue' and even `I don't know.'

"Yes," he said mildly, "I hear that can happen with thermoset resin." Damn him, he even found Clark's exposed, wide-eyed expression sexy on his own face.

That put the kibosh on the pool game, though it had the opposite effect on Lex's ardor. He stalked over to the mini-fridge, grabbing a bottle of water so he'd have something to do with his hands. Clark sat on the edge of the couch, watching him as if he might disappear between blinks.

He took the other side of the couch, running his free hand along the leather cushions as he drank. Clark's jeans were loose enough to cover a multitude of sins, or at least the sin of lust, so he splayed his legs comfortably as he turned his body towards Clark's.

Clark was still staring at him, flushed. Rubbing the blue bottle against his chest to rid it of a few stray drops of water, he wondered what was going on in that head - nothing he hadn't wondered plenty of times while actually in that head, but it was harder even to guess now.

"Should I go to the farm and do your chores?" Lex asked after a minute. He felt itchy, and physical activity might be just the ticket. Either that, or a quick jerk-off session in the barn.

Clark looked stricken. "Soon, I guess. But -"

But he didn't want to be alone in the castle. Lex understood that feeling.

Lex also didn't much appreciate being treated like an idiot. He needed a suitable reprisal. If Clark wouldn't talk, let him squirm. "Come over here."

Clark was such a good boy. He didn't even ask why, just got up and stood in front of Lex. In his Hong Kong-tailored charcoal pinstripe suit, lavender shirt and eggplant tie, he looked every inch the heir to an empire, standing on a priceless Persian rug, backgrounded by old Dutch paintings and older Ming vases.

Lex stood in order to circle him, looking at his pearl without price. Clark shifted on his feet. He wasn't used to people looking at him so carefully. Even Lex had tried to keep the obsessive stares to a minimum when Clark was looking back. Now he was fulfilling a well-tended fantasy, albeit under unanticipated circumstances: to have Clark pacing around him, watching him like a hawk watches a rabbit. That it was him in Clark's body, rather than Clark himself, was a disappointment, but he'd always known that it would take a serious disruption in the space-time continuum for Clark to return his interest.

Or a body that was wired to do boys and girls. And, what do you know, Clark was now in possession of one of those.

So that was what was going on in Clark's head. The flush extended to the back of his neck. Lex wanted to bite it.

"Wh - what are you doing?" Clark asked shakily.

"Looking," he said. "It's a rare chance, to see ourselves as others see us." Moving so that he could see Clark's face, he let his hand rise to touch Clark's shoulder, and felt the twitch under the jacket.

"Lex," Clark whispered, and his pants weren't that well-cut. He'd only hoped to embarrass Clark, but this could be much more entertaining, as well as relaxing.

"I can help you out with that," he said into Clark's ear. "I know exactly what to do."

"This is wrong," Clark said with absolutely no conviction.

"Why?" he asked, running his hand down the centerline of Clark's - Lex's - body, feeling the shudder of desire. The buttons on his pants were no more difficult to undo from this side. "It's like masturbation. You do masturbate, right?" He kept his eyes on Clark's face, and the guilty twitch suggested that not only did Clark masturbate, he'd taken the chance to do it in Lex's body. Clark's cock - the cock - seemed cooler than usual, possibly due to Clark's body's higher temperature. The shape was familiar, though the angle was unusual. Clark gasped and clenched his fists, tiliting his head up and screwing his eyes shut.

"You're really attracted to yourself?" he asked shakily.

"I am a very pretty man," Lex pointed out and dropped to his knees. Clark gave a choked-off groan that was the hottest thing Lex had heard in a long time, and Lex swallowed his cock.

Clark, no doubt used to jacking off in his little bedroom next to his parents' room, was pretty quiet, just making sexy little grunts and clenching and unclenching his fists. Lex thought that a very strong man might have to train himself not to touch anything but himself during sex, for fear of harming his partner or his surroundings. He reminded himself to relax his grip on Clark's thighs, but thought there still might be bruises.

Clark seemed to retain Lex's body's tolerances, because he let Lex suck him for a longish time before he came in sharp pulses, finally letting out an almost pained cry. Clark's tastes were subtly different, he thought as he let the semen roll across his tongue. It didn't seem quite as salty, and there was an unfamiliar tang that didn't fit in any of the salty/sweet/sour/bitter categories that organized the tastebuds.

Lex pulled away, remaining on his knees as he watched his body recover from the orgasm. Dazed wasn't a terrible look on him, he thought.

When the clapping began, he stood quickly and spun to stand in front of Clark, who gasped and fumbled at his belt.

As he turned to face his father, he hoped that Clark wouldn't castrate himself in his hurry to zip up.

"Who is that, Lex?" his father asked, jerking his cane in their general direction.

He turned to a panicking Clark and mouthed, "No one you need to worry about."

"N - no one you need to worry about," Clark repeated, though he didn't sound sure about it. Lex gave Clark a thumbs-up to reassure him.

"Oh, I doubt that, son. You've always been far too giving with your lovers. Now who could it be? That fascinating Mr. Kent? Or young Ms. Lang, your `business partner'?"

"Lana?" Clark sputtered, outraged, and Lex - too late - drew his finger across his throat in a desperate attempt to get Clark to shut up. Even Clark realized the enormity of his mistake as his father smiled, so sharklike that Lex was surprised he didn't see a second row of teeth.

"Oh, Martha!" he called out, nearly singing the words. "Can you come here for a moment?"

`Fuck' didn't adequately cover the situation, but it was a start. The door behind Lionel began to swing open. Lex looked at the side door, almost thirty feet away, and decided that he'd best make a run for it, even though he most likely wouldn't make it out before Martha arrived.

He was somewhat surprised when he felt air resistance, as if he were riding a motorcycle, and even more surprised when he almost slammed into the far wall of the adjacent room before he stopped.

What the hell just happened? he wondered as, distantly, he heard Martha ask, "What is it, Lionel?"

This was bad. This was an overloaded plateful of bad with a side order of bad and a steaming hot mug of bad. Lex had superspeeded! And he'd just had sex! And his mom was standing there, in the room where he'd just had sex! With - himself. Or Lex. Maybe both?

Even Lex's big, big brain wasn't helping him out. It was Control-Alt-Delete time.

"Who's here, Martha?" Mr. Luthor asked.

"Just Lex," she said, bewildered, looking at him for an explanation. He shrugged, and she stared at him harder. Too late, he realized that Lex was not the shrugging type. The blowjob-giving type, apparently, and stop thinking about that in front of your mom, doofus!

"Really?" Mr. Luthor sounded unconvinced.

"Do you want to check behind the sofa?" Clark managed, in the snide teenage tone that Lex only used when speaking to his father. He was shaking with the sudden tension in his recently loose-limbed body.

Mr. Luthor crossed the room and clamped his hand on Clark's shoulder. It hurt, and he had to stop himself from cringing away. Lex always tolerated his father's touches, and Clark hadn't realized what an effort that was until now, with Mr. Luthor's hand running over his neck and up his jaw.

"You smell of your own spunk," Mr. Luthor whispered in his ear, low enough that his mother couldn't have heard. "Don't ever think you can hide from me." With one last squeeze of his hand, he released Clark, who couldn't prevent a shudder.

"Never mind, then, Martha," he said cheerily, swinging his cane around as he turned so that Clark had to step back quickly to avoid being kneecapped. "Let's let Lex get back to his ... business."

Whew. Now there was only Lex to handle.

Of course it wasn't that easy. Mr. Luthor left the office, but his mom stayed.

"Lex," she said, walking over to him, "you don't look well. Are you all right?"

It was all he could do not to throw himself into her embrace. "I'm fine. Martha. Thanks for your concern," he said stiffly, clenching his arms around his body.

"All right," she said. She turned to go, then stopped, staring at the couch.

No, at Clark's flannel shirt and backpack, precariously balanced on the cushions.

"Lex, is Clark here?" Her eyes were suspicious.

"Yes." He paused to think of something suitable. "He went to get a snack from the kitchen."

"Maybe your father heard the two of you talking," she said speculatively.

"Maybe," he agreed. "He should be back in a few minutes."

"Tell him he should go home after he eats."

"You're not worried about spoiling his appetite?" He tried to sound teasing, because Lex probably would.

Her face relaxed, and she gave him a real smile. "I don't think winning a pie-eating contest would spoil Clark's appetite."

He smiled back, and the tightness in his chest relaxed.

The hallway door opened. He turned, expecting to see Mr. Luthor again. It was Lex, holding a glass of milk and a plate of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. "Hi, Mom," he said cheerily.

There was no way Lex could have gone to the kitchen and back in the time he'd had. And no way he could have known, even if he had, that that was what he was supposed to be doing.

Clark could have done it by superspeeding, naturally. But even Lex couldn't have mastered it that quickly. Could he?

Maybe he could have done it by leaving the other room as soon as he could, and they'd just guessed at the same excuse.

He swallowed. This was like walking through a forest of knives. All the knives aimed at Lex, and some sharpened specifically for Clark.

His mom, meanwhile, was repeating her instructions to Lex to eat up and go home. Lex nodded and smiled in between bites of a sandwich.

At long last, she left, brushing a kiss across Lex's cheek, and Clark collapsed onto the couch.

"Well," Lex said, coming over and offering him the plate, "that was exciting."

Clark had just been whiplashed from ecstasy to terror to relief, and because he couldn't do any damage he gave in to the impulse to whack Lex on the arm. "Understate much?"

"Only on my taxes," Lex chuckled. Then he tucked into the sandwiches, pausing only for gulps of milk.

Clark took a sandwich too, just to have something with which to busy his hands. When he looked up again, Lex had a milk mustache. It should have been funny, but it made his stomach lurch, and maybe parts lower down.

"What?" Lex asked, oblivious.

He coughed. "Uh, could I have some of your milk?"

Lex smiled and handed him the glass. When he brought the glass up to his lips, he could see where Lex had already touched it. Where Lex's mouth had touched it.

He swallowed and hastily returned the milk.

Fortunately, Lex's attention was firmly on the food. In that, he was slipping easily into his role as Clark Kent.

"So," Lex said at last, when the crumbs on the plate were too small to be worth chasing, "I was surprised I escaped discovery. It was strange; the rest of the world seemed to slow down, and only I was moving at normal speed." His tone was careful, not accusatory, which sent a sharp spike of terror into Clark's gut. He could bluster his way past accusations, but he didn't know what to do with this.

"Maybe ... maybe it was one of those things that happens when you're scared. Like your mind is giving you extra time to react." He didn't look at Lex.

"Mmm. That's probably it," Lex said and Clark tried not to sigh obviously in relief. "Well, I suppose I should head back to the old homestead."

"G - good idea," he concurred. Shouldn't we talk about the, you know, blowjob? he thought, but his mouth wouldn't form the words.

His mouth was smarter than his brain, probably, because he didn't know what his part of the conversation would be. Lex had been the only person besides Jessie to touch him there. Only, it wasn't exactly him. Lex's body had certainly been touched more often, and maybe Lex's body was supposed to take it casually. But he was a passenger in Lex's body, and it didn't feel casual. Except for the part where they weren't talking about it and Lex acted like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Maybe it was sugar-induced insanity. Lex had certainly consumed enough cookies to be bouncing off the walls (and in Smallville, one always had to pray that the expression wasn't literal). Or maybe Lex considered it another thing friends did for one another: loan of a Porsche; tickets to Radiohead; tux to be a best man; friendly neighborhood blowjob. If that was the case, Clark had been missing out on that perk of Lex's friendship for a while now.

See, this was why conversation was a bad idea. Even he could tell that he wasn't making sense.

Lex was hoisting his backpack to his shoulder while Clark failed to sort out his thoughts.

"I'll call you from school when I get the chance. I promise, no more skipping lunch."

"Great," Clark said, with a smile that felt so fake it might as well have been glued on.

"Don't worry," Lex said, stepping closer so he could rest a hand lightly on Clark's shoulder. "You're doing a fine job as me. Must be easier than I thought."

He looked up into his own friendly, teasing face, and thought that everything could still be all right.

"Maybe being me is harder than you thought."

"That, Clark, has not been in question since I got up at four-fifteen this morning."

When Lex left, he was smiling easily, and Clark was too.

"Can I go to the LuthorCorp party in Metropolis?" he asked with as much wide-eyed innocence as he could muster. "It's in the LuthorCorp tower, with views of the whole city!"

"Well, son," Jonathan began ponderously, "I don't know if that's a good idea. People who look down from the heights usually don't pay much attention to ordinary people down below."

"But Mom's going to be there!" he protested. Jonathan's face grew more tense; evidently that wasn't a source of any pleasure to him. Who'd have known that he'd ever agree with Jonathan Kent, a man who wouldn't believe him if he said that shit smelled?

"Your mother's a grown woman," Jonathan said after a moment, with apparent reluctance. "She can handle herself around people like that."

"Dad, I'm not going to get into any trouble. I'm just a kid from Smallville, so I don't think people are going to be coming out of the woodwork to corrupt me. And Mom will be there, if you don't trust me." He let a bit of self-righteousness creep in on the last sentence.

"It's not that I don't trust you, Clark. But you're not ... experienced yet. And there are people in Metropolis who won't look at you and see a kid."

There are people in Smallville like that, Lex thought. "Then this would be a good chance for me to see what Metropolis life is like. With Mom there to make sure that I don't do anything stupid."

He could sense Jonathan weakening. "And, you know, I can stick with Mom most of the time. So she's not left alone with all those people you don't like."

Jonathan's brows rose. Lex could almost see him imagining Clark as a barrier between Martha and Lionel. Reminding Lionel that Martha already had a family, and a close and loving one at that.

"Well," he said at last, "if your mother agrees. And you'll leave no later than eleven-thirty."

"Great! Can I go with Lex? I know Mom has to go in four hours early for the final party preparations, and if I went with Lex I wouldn't be in her way all that time."

Jonathan frowned again. "I don't like the idea of Lex Luthor taking you to a Metropolis party."

"Dad. It's the LuthorCorp Christmas party, not some club. Lex isn't friends with most of the people who'll be coming. And he'd just be giving me a ride." And maybe I'll give him a ride. Just to be fair, you know.

"Talk to your mother. If she's comfortable with the arrangements, and if you can leave by eleven-thirty -"

"Thanks, Dad!" Was now an appropriate time for a hug? Lex didn't think there was a force on the planet powerful enough to make him hug Jonathan Kent. He settled on a huge Clarkian smile, one with lots of sharp teeth.

"Go do your chores," Jonathan said roughly. But even Lex could hear the affection underneath.

The morning chores were even less interesting the second time around. On the plus side, after he'd tested Clark's fast-forward setting last night, he'd been confident enough to sleep until 7:15, just as Clark would.

That was one mystery solved. Not only would the Kents have no need for another farmhand with a Whiz Kid around, they'd be afraid that one would notice Clark's special skills.

If the Olympics let Smallville survivors compete, there'd be a whole new standard for the gold.

He was careful to eat everything Martha put in front of him, this time. Upon reflection, he thought Clark was probably right that the seesaw of hunger and sugar shock had impaired his judgment. Blowing Clark was straight out of his sixteen-year-old playbook, and sixteen-year-old Lex had been hellishly incapable of strategy. And had enjoyed himself immensely, but life was a series of trade-offs.

Pleading temporary insanity had worked before.

"Don't forget, you have the deliveries after school before you can go to Metropolis," Martha instructed him, and he nodded absently, still shoveling food into his mouth like a man stoking coal. There had to be a way to spin this so as not to scare Clark away.

He had to hurry, though only human-hurry, to catch the schoolbus. Yesterday had been his first time in a real yellow bus. It didn't have seatbelts, which seemed dangerous to him, especially given the accident rate in Smallville.

Not that he had to worry, in this body.

He shoved in next to Pete and Chloe, who were content to let him stare out the window while they sassed each other. Today's schedule was different than yesterday's, and he was glad Clark had it carefully noted in the front of his binder. Today was also a `flip day,' which meant that the last three periods were reversed, for some arcane reason.

History class, first period, was covering the Civil War. Lex tried to look as if he were paying attention without conveying that he'd be able to give good answers to the teacher's questions. That was harder than it looked, and he had to give Clark credit for his lurking skills.

"Could the South have won the war?" the teacher asked, her gaze sweeping over the students like a searchlight on a lighthouse, finding only empty water. Kids shifted in their seats, hoping for the agony to end.

After waiting the requisite thirty seconds, so she wouldn't seem like a complete grind, a girl with straight brown hair and wire-framed glasses raised her hand.

"Yes, Rochelle?"

"No. The North had all the industry, and it could outproduce the South."

Lex frowned automatically, rubbing his fingers up and down his pencil.

"You disagree, Clark?"

He straightened in his chair. This was not keeping his head down. He couldn't help it -- the topic was important: industry didn't win wars; generals won wars, though naturally generals with bigger guns won more of them. "If Gettysburg had come out the other way, and it would have if General Warren hadn't reinforced Little Round Top on the second day, the North could have been forced to let the Union split. The British were about to recognize the South as an independent government when news of the Union victory at Gettysburg arrived, and British backing would have more than matched the North's resources. Without victory at Gettysburg, the continuation of the war would have been politically impossible, and Lincoln would have been forced to make peace."

The teacher closed her mouth. "Well," she said at last, "that's certainly a strong opinion."

Lex concentrated on keeping his expression bland, fading into the background, even though he wanted to protest. It wasn't an opinion. It was the way things were.

Near the end of class, while the teacher was putting a timeline on the chalkboard, a folded note came arrowing over his shoulder, landing perfectly between two of the rings of his binder. Lex stopped copying the timeline for Clark's future reference and opened the note.

"What is with you?" it said. Pete, he assumed. He just wasn't any good at being low-profile. It had never seemed necessary - or possible - before. And besides, was he supposed to let Rochelle get away with such a facile analysis?

Yes, actually.

Damn, but he hated being bad at anything. He crumpled the note in his fist and turned back to the timeline.

After class, he tried to put a stream of students between himself and Pete. Because he was focusing on Pete's location, he was almost on top of Lana before he realized it, and had to stumble backwards to avoid a crash.

"Hey, Clark," she said, seeing nothing unusual in his dance of awkwardness.

"Hi, Lana." She was wearing pink again. Lex occasionally toyed with the idea that she didn't really like all that pink, just had a bad habit of washing her whites with reds, but that was optimistic.

Still, the pink sweater clung to her chest as if it knew what a sweet gig it had, and the fake-pearl buttons strained just a little bit. From the right angle, one might be able to see more than Lana probably wanted to show.

He wondered what kind of underwear she was wearing, trying to trace the outlines under her clothes.

And got an eyeful of cream cotton edged with lace.

He blinked, trying to dispel the hallucination. After a few seconds, it disappeared, only to be replaced by an anatomically correct representation of her skeleton. The good news about that was that it put a damper on his body's overly enthusiastic response to the sight of girlish unmentionables.

"Clark, man!" Pete was shaking his elbow. "Clark, come back to us."

Lex closed his eyes. When I open them, he thought, I will see only in the visible spectrum.

His commands were as ineffective as those of King Canute ordering the tide not to come in. Pete's articulated skeleton, surrounded by less-dense muscles and organs, put a concerned hand on his forearm, and Lex stared in fascination at the dance of the bones. Clark's bones looked a bit heavier, but he couldn't be sure if that was just normal human variation. Suddenly, leaving biology for chemistry seemed like more of a loss.

"Sorry," he said, imagining the workings of his jaw, the obscene strength of his tongue. "I'm having a little trouble with my eyes." Indeed, the bones disappeared, replaced by what seemed to be an overhead view of the boiler room.

"Do you need some Visine?" Lana asked, drifting closer.

"No, thank you," he said. "I'll just go to the bathroom." If he could only figure out where the walls were. This wasn't just seeing beyond the visible spectrum. Somehow, Clark's vision could skip over objects to see behind them. An intelligent mind, he realized, could keep the layers separate, logic and intuition sorting what a computer couldn't hope to distinguish.

He put a hand out until he encountered the lockers lining the hallway. He was careful to move slowly, because it would be hard to explain how he'd punched a hole through the metal doors. Now, if he remembered correctly, the nearest boys' bathroom was approximately thirty feet away.

"Whoah, Clark, I've got you," Pete said, taking Lex's arm as if he were as blind as his father.

Not a good thought. Though in reality the situation was reversed, at least if he could control the channel-surfing vision. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. What's your kingdom, Clark? he wondered as Pete haltingly led him past inquisitive classmates. What are its metes and bounds?

He remembered at last to put a hand to his eyes, rubbing as if there were actually bits of sand blurring his vision. That just gave him another layer of bones to examine. His eyelids were invisible, the thinnest of veils over the rest of the world.

"Are you okay?" Pete said when they were at last in the bathroom, where Lex leaned with his back against the wall and breathed deeply, trying to nerve himself up for another attempt to get control. Pete moved closer, speaking so quietly that Lex could barely hear him. "Is this another ... power?"

Lex bit down hard on his lower lip. At least his own teeth could do himself some damage. He reviewed the many reasons that Clark would have to hide from a Luthor what he'd reveal to a true friend. What exactly did Pete know? He'd be easy enough to lead into a full confession.

His father would leap at the opportunity to seduce a target's confidant into a revelation. Especially when the target had been playing him false.

"Pete, I'd rather not talk about that right now."

Pete subsided, and Lex concentrated. It had to be like focusing his eyes normally. After a few minutes, he'd managed to make his eyelids opaque, and the darkness was a tremendous relief.

His cellphone vibrated, and he retrieved it and pressed `talk' by touch alone, still waiting to try regular vision. "Yes?"


"Speaking." The tension in his voice was surely evident to Clark. But he had to wait until they were face to face before a real discussion.

"Uh, there's a guy here from the EPA? Some inspection thing?"

Lex's eyes snapped open. He found himself staring at the reflection of Clark across from him, slightly distorted by the cheap institutional mirror.

"Let him see whatever he wants. You've got nothing to hide."

"Okay." The relief in Clark's voice was both touching and disappointing. Trust. The name of the game was trust, like the childish Outward Bound game where you fell backwards as your colleagues caught you. Neither of them were doing a particularly good job of relying on one other to do the catching.

There was plenty of falling, though. He shuddered as he remembered Club Zero, and Level Three, and other incidents. So Clark was doing fine with the catching; he was flunking the being caught half of the exercise.

There had to be something Lex could do about that.

Always assuming, of course, that he figured out exactly how he wanted to catch Clark.

"Anything else?" he asked, more warmly.

"No. I better get going."

Lex stabbed the `end' button before Clark finished the last syllable. "We should get to class," he told Pete.

"Who the heck was that?" Pete asked, clearly frustrated by Lex's evasions, though just as clearly used to them.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"I dunno," Pete muttered, catching up to Lex in the hallway as they headed towards English. "I believe a lot of things even Agent Mulder would have laughed at."

Reviewing Lex's personnel files, Clark was surprised by all the details Lex had accumulated, down to the high school accomplishments of the janitorial staff. He'd bet the Department of Homeland Security would have been hard pressed to come up with more complete information. Of course, in Smallville, it was often a good idea to be aware of any grudges an employee might be holding, particularly if you were a Luthor, as Chuck Behrens had demonstrated yesterday.

He heard the tentative knock he'd come to recognize as Sherrie's. "Come in," he called, closing the employee picturebook and putting it back on its shelf.

Sherrie swung in like a parade float, wearing a green skirt and a silky shirt patterned with holly berries. She also had a big pin in the shape of a Christmas wreath, with Santa's head in the middle - why would Santa stick his head through a Christmas wreath? - and shiny red earrings in the shape of tree ornaments. Put an angel on her head and she could be her own Christmas tree.

That had better have been some left-over Lex snark, or else he was going to be in trouble when he got back to himself.

"I'm heading down to the party, Mr. Luthor," she said and smiled widely. With her red lipstick, she reminded him somehow of the Cheshire Cat.

"I'll be right behind you," Clark promised, then turned his head to hide the blush. It was bizarre how saying things in Lex's voice was the equivalent of adding `in bed' to the end of a fortune cookie fortune. The words came out coated in chocolate and sounding as if they'd been whispered into your ear, even if you were standing ten feet away.

Checking, he saw that Sherrie was gone, and rose from Lex's desk to follow. The party was down in the employee cafeteria, and he knew how to get there due to a rather unfortunate detour the day before.

The cafeteria was nearly as overdecorated as Sherrie was. At least the Christmas tree was real, though the presents underneath probably weren't. Then again, Clark could never tell when Lex was going to play lord of the manor and hand out goodies to the peasantry.

People were circulating, cups of pink punch in hand, or gathering in knots eating sugar cookies. He recognized most of them, either workers or spouses of workers, and tried to push away the part of his mind telling him who was a good produce customer and who'd given him rides after school.

The oceanic rush of sound that surrounded him suggested that the party was going well. Waiters wove through the partygoers holding trays of champagne. He heard Lex's voice telling him that champagne was for people who couldn't appreciate brandy, and waved off the smiling man who offered him a glass. Lex's body could probably tolerate a century of champagne with no effect, but Clark was taking no chances.

Instead, he went over to the long table where all the drinks were and waited in line, at least until the other people realized who was standing behind him and gave him frontsies - it wasn't grade school, but there really wasn't another way to describe it. The woman tending bar didn't blink when he asked for water, no ice, though she did freeze when he smiled and thanked her.

"Breathe," he heard one of her coworkers order, laughing, as he left.

Mr. Sullivan was on the other side of the room, holding court with his immediate subordinates. Clark supposed he ought to drop in and nod wisely, so he made for that cluster of people.

Bam! Water sloshed over Clark's wrist and sleeve as a solid hit to his stomach forced the breath out of him. He looked down and discovered that he'd been nailed by a suit-jacketed boy of about six, who was even now stepping back with a look of frustration on his face. He also discovered that the boy had been carrying a frosted cupcake, which was now a partially frosted cupcake, as a fair amount of red buttercream had been transferred to his - Lex's - tie.

"John!" Maxine Gordon, from Accounting, hurried up and grabbed the boy. "John, you have to watch where - Oh, Mr. Luthor, I'm so sorry -" She made as if to dab at his tie with the handful of already-grubby napkins she was carrying, then aborted the gesture. Her face was pale underneath her makeup, and she looked as if she were readying to take a punch.

"It's all right," he said, chuckling and hoping that Lex didn't have any really sentimental memories attached to that tie. "A waste of good frosting, but no harm done." He put what was left of the water down and reached out to pluck an intact-looking napkin from her lax hand, so that he could scrape the worst of the frosting off of the tie. It left a dark, greasy stain. Maybe he could hide the damaged tie in the back of the closet with the ties, or, better, in the back of the closet with the shoes. He wasn't sure whether frosting would eventually go bad and start to stink up the place. Maybe it would be better to leave it for the dry cleaning fairy who took care of the other clothes.

"I'm so sorry," Mrs. Gordon said again. "Let me -"

He held up his hand before she could offer to pay for the tie. Lex was never paid for; Lex did the paying. Regardless of who'd created the debt. Something twisted in his stomach, but he pushed it away. "Really, Maxine. Relax and enjoy the party. I am."

Much of the strain left her face. "Thank you. John -" She looked around, discovering that young John had better things to do than help clean up, and darted away with one last, grateful look at Clark.

If that was how the average employee looked at Lex, no wonder he was so tired at the end of the day. It must be like being surrounded by stray cats, always watching him for unexpected movement and ready to flee at the first wrong step. Was it all left over from Mr. Luthor, or had Lex shown them his temper a few times too?

Mr. Sullivan hadn't moved, though a few different managerial types had entered and escaped his orbit, so Clark began again the journey towards his corner.

This time, he was almost prepared for the body blow. "We've got to stop meeting like this," he told John Gordon, who smiled up at him, tolerating his adult weirdness. In John's wake, two other little kids followed, one an Asian-looking girl wearing a Powerpuff Girls sweatshirt and the other a dirty-blond boy in a plaid flannel shirt that Clark could have sworn he owned, about twenty sizes larger.

"Why are you bald?" John asked. In his peripheral vision, Clark could see people turning, either in apprehension or anticipation.

Clark got down on one knee so that he could look them in the eyes. The blond boy shrank behind the girl. "When I was a kid - a little older than you - rocks fell from the sky. I was very scared, and all my hair fell out."

"Rocks don't fall from the sky," John said scornfully.

"Well, that's why I was so scared," Clark pointed out. The little girl nodded thoughtfully, while the blond just stared.

"Can I touch?" John asked. In the distance, Clark could hear Mrs. Gordon pushing her way through the assembled crowd.

"Are your hands clean?" he asked sternly, and the little girl and the blond immediately held their hands out for inspection. John quickly rubbed his palms across his corduroy pants and followed suit. "All right then."

He bowed his head, thinking that there were some things about his experience that Lex was better off not knowing. Cool (and slightly sticky; he suspected John) little hands explored his scalp, fingers poking at his eyebrows and around his neck.

"John, that's enough!" Mrs. Gordon had finally arrived, pulling him away. Clark raised his head, and the other children retreated, still looking at him as if he were a baby giraffe brought in for show and tell. He would have bet that many of the adults had the same expression, but he didn't look.

"If I get too scared, will my hair fall out?" the little girl asked.

"Let's see," he said and made a scary face at her, sticking his hands up by his ears and wiggling his fingers. She shrieked as the blond buried his head against her shoulder, and then giggled. "Nope, your hair's stuck on pretty tight."

"Give me a ride," she said imperiously and held out her hands, deciding to grace him with her favor. The blond, rejected, faded back into the forest of adult legs surrounding them.

"But we haven't been introduced," he said and cut off anything further about giving rides to ladies he didn't know, because that would have sounded bad even in his regular voice. Lex saying it was likely to start a riot. "What's your name?"

"Kumiko," she said and waved her hands at him, to make him see that she was still waiting to be picked up.

"Hello, Kumiko, I'm Lex." He took one small hand and shook it vigorously. "Would you like a ride on my shoulders?"

"Yes," she said, her tone indicating that he was obviously slow-brained and that it was very difficult for her to make allowances. He picked her up, settling her on his shoulders with only a minute of wriggling. The heels of her Powerpuff Girls sneakers beat against his lapels as he smiled at the people watching them. They smiled back, nervously, the way people smile at clowns when they remember that clowns are scarier than they are funny.

Kumiko waved at someone, who pushed through the crowd and planted herself in front of Clark. He stared at her, flipping pages in his mind, until he recognized her as Jennifer Gold, the wife of one of the mechanics. "Hello, Jennifer. Are you Kumiko's mom?"

She nodded, looking a bit out of her depth.

"Kumiko's borrowed me to help her check out the party, if that's all right with you."

"Oh, uh, sure. Mr. Luthor," she added, in case he needed reminding.

"Cookies," Kumiko announced and grabbed his ears as if they were reins. Clark winced, then smoothed his face into acceptance.

"Duty calls," he said to Mrs. Gold, and turned towards the cookie table.

By this time, Mr. Sullivan had moved, and Clark was able to come up beside him as Kumiko nibbled at her candy cane-shaped cookie. "Enjoying the party, Gabe?" he asked, because Lex had told him that the person of higher rank initiates the conversation. Whether this was to put the other person at ease or to show who was in charge, Clark hadn't been quite certain, but it had worked well for the past two days.

"Oh, yes. Looks like you found some female companionship," he joked, lifting his eyebrows to indicate Kumiko.

"Much more pleasant than my usual," he said and watched Mr. Sullivan fight a smile.

"I want another cookie," Kumiko commanded, and Clark handed up one in the shape of a bell.

"Also, much less demanding," he continued.

This time, Mr. Sullivan didn't bother to conceal his grin. It was nice to know that someone else shared his opinion of Lex's taste, or shocking lack of taste, in women.

"So, how did you know who that kid from yesterday was? And his music, if you can call that stuff music?"

"I know everything, Gabe." Clark didn't have to try to smirk this time; it happened naturally.

Mr. Sullivan laughed, because Lex's voice could make even a line like that sound good. In Smallville, if someone told you not to ask questions - especially a Luthor - you didn't ask. Mr. Sullivan knew that, though he'd failed to convey it to Chloe.

"I'm done," Kumiko said, and Clark put a hand up to receive the sodden remains of the cookie.

"You're good with her," Mr. Sullivan said. "You'll be a good father."

Clark felt his smile freeze, despite his best efforts. He wasn't likely to be anyone's father, not unless his biology teacher was really, spectacularly wrong about interspecies mating. Mr. Sullivan's face fell as he realized that he'd made a mistake, though his assumptions about why it was a mistake were literally light-years off.

"Well," he said, trying to keep his tone light, "that's a ways off. Plenty of time to practice on the likes of Kumiko here." Kumiko, perhaps sensing some tension in him, patted his head comfortingly.

Mr. Sullivan gave him a grateful smile and started to talk about plant operations.

All in all, Clark might have preferred the conversation about fatherhood. At least he'd seen fatherhood in action.

Lex stared at the pile of ingredients on the table as if they were going to jump up and devour his flesh. "We're supposed to do what?"

"It's a simple pound cake, Clark," Pete said, oblivious to Lex's look of disbelief. Weren't men supposed to be manly, keep-my-woman-barefoot-and-pregnant-and-above-all-in-the-kitchen out in the heartland? He could explain the chemical reactions that converted soggy flour to tasty cake, but actualizing them was another matter.

"I can't believe you zoned on this, man," Pete continued, cutting a chunk of butter and putting it into a small bowl. Carefully, Lex imitated him. "I mean, at the end, there's food, and you're usually so happy about that."

Lex looked down, trying to do whatever Pete was doing to the butter. "I guess I'm just excited about going to this Christmas party in Metropolis with my mom."

Now Pete was mixing other things, powdery things, in another bowl. Lex's butter didn't look much like Pete's, but he didn't want to fall behind.

"Lex going to be there?" Pete asked, not looking at Lex.

"Yes," he said and swallowed any further explanation.

Pete looked dyspeptic. "That guy is trouble."

"It's a Christmas party," he said patiently, concentrating on imitating Pete's motions.

"And I bet you'll be by his side the entire night." Now Pete was adding the contents of one bowl to another. "People are starting to talk, you know."

"What people? And what talk?" Lex kept his tone innocent as he tried to pick out the shards of eggshell that had somehow ended up in his bowl. Raw eggs were unpleasantly slimy, it turned out, and those shell fragments were cagey, slippery bastards.

"People. You know." Pete lowered his voice and leaned in further. "Some of the guys on the football team were talking about him coming to pick you up in his fancy cars. And then there's Lana. Man spends a hundred thousand dollars on making a sixteen-year-old girl happy, you have to wonder."

"So which of us is he supposed to be molesting?" It wasn't a sixteen-year-old girl, dammit, but that wasn't likely to be a helpful defense. Also, Pete's accounting was off, though by an embarrassingly small margin.

Pete held his hands up. "Don't kill the messenger, my friend. I'm just saying. What do you think he sees in you, anyway? A sophomore in high school and Smallville's biggest businessman."

"Maybe he likes my fresh perspective," he said. Pete opened the oven and put his batter-filled tin inside. Lex followed, although his batter hadn't exactly been smooth like Pete's. "Maybe he likes spending time with someone who doesn't think he's Satan in training pants." Maybe he's a hopeless romantic, searching for a hopeless romance.

Now came the cleaning, and Lex was more comfortable. Cleaning up after oneself was one of the first lessons he'd learned, and one on which his parents had agreed entirely.

"Even if his motives are good, Clark, it's dangerous for you. If he found out -"

"I've been thinking about that," he said, surprised that the words came out rough and ragged.

"As much as you like him, can you really say that he wouldn't use it against you?" They put their bowls and cups away and headed back to the tables, where a worksheet involving the Mediterranean food pyramid awaited.

"No," he admitted. "No, I can't."

Pete nodded, satisfied, while Lex stared down at the stupid cartoon fruits and grains and hated him, hated the situation, and above all hated himself.

Soon enough, the smell of baking cake permeated the classroom, and he found that anticipation was enough to lift his mood. That, and doodling a surreptitious cartoon involving Pete, a vat of fertilizer and an extremely angry cow.

Mood swing, thy name is Clark Kent, he thought. Or Lex Luthor. Or, well, Lex-in-Clark had connotations that were unfortunately inaccurate. Lex/Clark? Lark? Clex?

He had too much time on his hands.

Students were heading back to the ovens now, putting tins full of golden-brown cake onto woven pot holders so ugly that they had to be remnants of an earlier class project. Pete pulled his out and handed his oven mitts to Lex, who bemusedly put them on and extracted his cake.

Extracted his baking tin and formerly foodlike substance, anyway. Glancing at the results of the other students, he was forced to conclude that, as they said on Sesame Street, one of these things was not like the others. His was darker, except for the spots where it was white from little explosions of unmixed flour. Its surface, a good inch lower than the other cakes, looked unappealingly tough and was cratered like a moonscape. The teacher was making the rounds, sticking a fork into the various cakes to see if the tines came out clean.

"Good job, Mr. Ross," she said, swinging around to them. "Mr. Kent, what happened?" She didn't bother with the fork on his. She was probably afraid the metal would bend.

He shrugged helplessly, a perfect Clark Kent moment. "I'm sorry?"

"I don't know what your mother would think! I'm afraid you're not going to do so well on this assignment."

He shrugged again, the standard exasperating teen response to bad news and motivational appeals alike. She frowned and made a note in her gradebook.

Lex felt bad for Clark. Clark would have done nearly as well on the trigonometry test as Lex had, so his net result was to decrease Clark's grades, and that was not mannerly. Also, it was humiliating.

"Sorry, man," Pete said and slapped him on the back. "At least it didn't explode. And you can have some of mine."

"Thanks, Pete," he said and turned to drown his sorrows in sugar.

The first thing Clark did when he got back to the castle was to ball the frosted tie up, frosting side in, and leave it in Lex's dressing room for some servant to explain. After that, he pulled the dress shirt out of the pants and tried to brush out the cookie crumbs that had been grating against his neck and back.

Then it was time to walk nervously back and forth. There were going to be all sorts of people at the party, people who knew Lex, at least from the Inquisitor, and he was afraid that he'd give himself away to them, or, worse, leave them thinking Lex was an idiot.

He would have gotten dressed, but he hadn't even known there were different kinds of tuxedos until he'd stumbled upon that section of Lex's wardrobe. He'd have to wait for Lex's advice. Lex, meanwhile, had fewer choices - he'd have to wear the tux Clark had worn to Lex's ill-starred wedding. Clark couldn't remember exactly why Lex had hung on to the penguin suit, but it was hanging in the formalwear closet, set off to one side among a forest of bare hangers, and it solved one problem at least. He was nervous, pacing around Lex's clothes and his bedroom, so he decided to take his pacing to the office.

The pacing might have been a bad idea; he was nearly out of his (temporary) skin by the time Lex arrived. "You're late," he observed from his position behind the couch when Lex walked smoothly into the room.

"I had to deliver some organic produce."

Oh. Oh, no. "Ah, Mrs. Harrison -- ?" he began. Lex's eyes flickered, a sign of unease. "You didn't -"

"No, I didn't."

"Good. But did you -"

"No, I didn't do that either. The situation is entirely status quo ante." Lex was looking at him with what, for Lex, was amused tolerance. In another person, Clark would have labeled that expression `murderous impatience,' and because Lex currently was another person, it looked disturbing.

"So what did she -"

"Clark. I have a proposition for you. You will never mention her name to me again, and I, in return, will never mention her name to you. Are we clear?"

Clark gulped. "As glass."

Lex snorted and turned to look over his desk. "Anything require immediate attention? Otherwise you can fill me in while we're in the limo."

"Nothing. We can hit the road as soon as you change." Then Clark took a closer look. "Did you shave this morning?" It hadn't been noticeable yesterday, but two days' worth of stubble was very evident.

Lex looked surprised, and ran a hand consideringly across his jaw. "No."

"Well, you need to do that first. You look like a, a bum." He was surprised his dad hadn't lectured Lex on proper hygiene already.

"Why would razors - Never mind," Lex said and half-turned, staring out the window. He was thinking hard, and this was always risky where Clark was concerned. Thinking, maybe, about why razors could work on Clark's hair when his skin was invulnerable. "I need a shower," he said absently.

Clark broke into Lex's musings with no compunction. "And you need to shave."

"I don't know how," he admitted. His expression was slightly defiant, daring Clark to comment.

"I guess I can do it," Clark said, thinking that it wouldn't be too different than looking in a mirror. "Do you have a razor anywhere?"

Lex waved a hand negligently. "I'm sure one can be found."

But can one be found without one of the servants smirking at me? Clark wondered. Also, what with the invulnerable skin, did Lex really need someone to show him how to shave? It wasn't as if he had nicks and cuts to fear. But then, it was an excuse to get Lex all hot and steamy.

Wasn't it wrong to think of getting Lex hot and steamy while Lex was in his body? No, wait, that question went on too long. Lex was a guy, and older, and a guy, and not so popular with the Dad contingent, and a guy.

Methinks someone doth protest too much, Lex's voice whispered in his head.

And Lex did really amazing things with his mouth. With Clark's mouth. Whatever.


He tried to pay attention. "Um, can you ask someone? The people who work here intimidate me."

"You're going to have to take being waited on with good grace if you're going to be me. Or be friends with me," Lex added, too casually. As if he were waiting for Clark to reject him. It made him sad, to think that Lex saw the world as full of hands ready to slap him instead of holding him close.

"One step at a time, okay? First let's get you shaved."

Ten minutes later, with Lex showering behind frosted glass as the mirrors fogged over, Clark was still wondering whether this was a good idea. He looked down at the safety razor, brush and jar of shaving cream that had been provided, because God forbid a Luthor use Gilette foam or something plebeian like that. It was Lex's fault that he even knew the word plebeian, he thought morosely, and its derivation.

"What's taking so long?" he shouted towards the shower.

"Shampooing!" Lex shouted back. "I don't really see why you need to do it twice."

"What? What are you talking about?"

A bottle came sailing over the shower door. Clark dove for it and managed to catch it before it shattered on the marble-tiled floor. "See the instructions."

"'Lather. Rinse. Repeat,'" Clark read. "Lex, that's just - they just make that up so you'll use more shampoo! Nobody shampoos twice!"

"Are you sure?" he asked suspiciously. "Or is that some Kent cost-saving measure?"

"No!" Clark snapped. "Don't you even remember?"

There was a short pause. "Before the meteor shower, my mother used to give me my bath," Lex said in a voice barely audible over the pounding water.

Clark struggled for the right words, not maudlin but not insensitive. "Well, I bet she didn't shampoo twice."

"If you say so." Lex's voice was cheerful again; he'd been forgiven. Clark sometimes wondered what it would take for Lex not to forgive him. But then, he was pretty sure he already knew. "Do I need conditioner?"

"I don't use it."

"And your hair usually looks unkempt." That was Lex's word for `dorky.' "Never mind, I'm not supposed to make any changes in Clark Kent's image. Okay, here I come."

Clark should have expected that Lex would walk out nude. He himself would have put a towel over the shower door, maybe even a robe, but Lex was made to be looked at and knew it. He reached for a towel, all long, confident muscle, and Clark wondered if he'd ever be as comfortable in that body as Lex was after two days. Lex wore it as if seeing him was a privilege, as if his mere presence ought to be enough to improve a day. Watching him, Clark could imagine his classmates treating him better if he walked around like that. He'd been arrogant when he was wearing his class ring, but that wasn't the same. Lex was arrogant, sure, but he was also - he struggled to define it - strong, certain of the advantages his body gave him. Arrogance was part insecurity; Lex had enough confidence, at least in his ability to control people, that he could walk around like a young king whether in his own body or Clark's. It wasn't what Clark really wanted, and it wasn't anything he could afford to have, but knowing that it was possible was comforting and bittersweet.

"All right, my good man, get to work." Lex had towel-dried his hair and wrapped another towel around his waist.

"Um, why don't you get up on the counter?" he suggested, because he had no real idea how to shave another man.

This was a bad idea, in the sense that when Lex hopped up, he splayed his legs, and the towel became more a matter of highlighting what wasn't quite showing than of covering Lex's body. Um, Clark's body. And Clark was going to have to stand between those legs.

He swallowed and busied himself with trying to create a lather with the expensive-smelling stuff he'd been given. It wasn't actually that difficult, just different from using a spray can. The round wooden-handled brush felt good in his hand, and when he turned to Lex, the first stroke slid on smoothly. He could almost feel the roughness on Lex's cheek transmitted up through the brush.

It took a few minutes for him to be satisfied with the coverage on Lex's cheeks, chin and neck. He didn't want to miss any places, he told himself, ignoring the way Lex's eyes were half-shuttered and his neck tilted up like an offering at the slightest touch.

Lex smelled like a mixture of himself and Clark, shampoo and clean skin mixed with the scent of Lex's sandalwood bath gel. Clark's clothes felt too coarse against his skin.

He raised the razor and made the first stroke. Lather fell away in a line - a little like plowing, he thought in the part of his mind that was trying to tell him that nothing was going on and he was just helping out a friend - revealing skin that would never be as smooth as Lex's.

Lex trembled and then stilled. Clark heard a crunching sound and glanced down, seeing with horror that Lex's hand had clenched on the marble edge of the counter. The marble hadn't crumbled, but there were cracks along the lighter veins.

"I'd never do anything to hurt you, you know," Lex said into his ear.

If he were smart, he'd say something like `That's pretty random, Lex,' and hope Lex would let it slide. Because Lex would - he'd chosen friendship over knowledge before, though it had cost him dear, and Lex didn't like to change his mind.

Which meant that he was relying on hurting his friend, not just on keeping him in the dark.

He raised his eyes to Lex's face. "I - I know that, Lex."

Lex's eyes shone, and this near Clark could see the tears about to spill onto his lashes. Then Lex closed his eyes, hiding whatever was boiling there.

Despite his terror - because of it? - Clark's body was screaming for him to touch, to reach out and take what Lex was, had to be, offering. Lex's legs were inches from Clark's hips, his chest not much more than a deep breath away, and their faces were as close as if Clark were scrutinizing his face in a mirror. So close that it seemed impossible that they weren't touching at all. The only connection was the scrape of the razor, transmitting the feel of Lex's cheek to Clark's hand.

He didn't cross that gap. Not because of morality or any other high-minded consideration, but because he didn't know what to do. Lex had all sorts of experience, and Clark had only a few fumblings, a half-won battle with Jessie in the front seat of Lex's car, most of which was probably irrelevant to doing things with a guy.

Maybe, he thought despairingly, he could feed Lex another bag of Kit Kats and see if that made Lex take the initiative again.

Clark concentrated on providing a smooth, even shave. At least with shaving, it was clear what counted as progress and success.

Waving casually with his champagne glass full of ginger ale, Lex indicated a man about four yards away. "That's Congressman Frankel. There was a thing - his daughter, a Doberman, and forty-three pounds of Spam. He probably doesn't want to talk to you."


"Kidding. There was no Doberman, and hardly any Spam. Which reminds me, if anyone ever asks you to have sex on horseback, say no."

Clark goggled, then pulled himself together. "You're making fun of me."

"Sadly, not as much you probably think. Oh, you've got to say hello to that brunette in the corner, Terry - Therese Richart, but I call her Terry and she calls me Alex. Go up and ask her if she's using that dress. It's a private joke. She and I spent one summer -" he looked over and caught Clark's desperate expression - "Well, anyway, we were quite close not so many years back. Go on," he prodded, and Clark swallowed like a man on the way to the gallows and moved forward.

He pushed himself into the conversation Terry was having with some Junior League types with tolerable skill, Lex thought. It looked as if the dress question went well, because Terry squealed, grabbed Clark by his tie, and gave him the kind of traffic-stopping, erection-inducing kiss for which Terry was justly famous among a certain set.

Satisfied that Clark was unlikely to get into business trouble, Lex took the opportunity to wander around. As a kid of no importance, he was free to hang back, eavesdrop with his wonderfully keen hearing, and otherwise observe the businesspeople drinking and insulting both Lionel and, on occasion, Lex himself. At Lionel's funeral, there would doubtless be a score of people who'd stay the night beside the grave, stakes and axes in hand, just in case the man decided to rise from the dead and continue his reign.

Martha had been cornered by John DeCenzo, and her expression had been growing stiffer each time he circled past, so he decided to intervene.

"Hi, Mom," he said, sidling between them and incidentally forcing DeCenzo another foot away from Martha.

"Clark!" she said with even more enthusiasm than usual. "Mr. DeCenzo, this is my son Clark."

"Surely you're too young to be this young man's mother," DeCenzo said unctuously.

"Surely you're too old to be using that line," he said and put DeCenzo, who'd begun to sputter, out of his mind. "I think Mr. Luthor is looking for you." Circling her wrist in the lightest of grips, he tugged her away, towards the bulk of the party.

"That was incredibly rude of you," she tutted, pursing her mouth.

"I know," he said, swinging her around towards the bar. "How'd you like it?"

Martha put her free hand to her mouth and giggled. "Not that he didn't deserve it, but really, Clark, these are Mr. Luthor's friends."

He released her and snagged a glass of champagne, holding it out to her with a smile. "Friends? Never. I'd characterize them as minions, peons, temporary allies and deadly enemies, sometimes all at once. DeCenzo - Lex says that Mr. DeCenzo's a supplier who's about not to be a supplier anymore, so I wouldn't worry about him."

"Well, honey," she said, clearly about to forgive him, just this once, when Lionel's voice cut in.

"Martha! There you are!" Lex could feel his back stiffen, and only a nearby potted plant saved his glass from shattering in his hands.

Martha turned, like a sunflower seeking the sun, and something he'd eaten decided that it was unhappy with the experience and would be filing an immediate protest with his stomach. She smiled, just as warm as she'd smile for Clark or Jonathan, and walked towards Lionel.

Lionel's arm slipped around her shoulders as he introduced her to some of Metropolis's premier businesspeople, his fingers expertly brushing across her evening wrap and down across her bare skin.

Lex decided that he'd better leave before he decided to engage in an impromptu demonstration of applied physics, which would send Lionel through the window and down thirty floors at an acceleration of 9.8 meters per second per second. As he prowled towards a door, he calculated the approximate velocity on impact, discounting air resistance as negligible in the case of a man falling headfirst.

The hall was filled with clusters of sparkling, smiling people, and he headed for a closed door that might possibly offer him sanctuary.

The third one he tried opened into a nicely appointed library, a place to take certain special guests if private business needed to be transacted. Brandy and glasses were waiting by a large leather couch.

Something hanging from the ceiling caught his eye. Mistletoe.

That wasn't a normal feature of LuthorCorp Christmas parties, and he ought to know, given how much kissing - and other things - he'd done at various iterations thereof. The decorators wouldn't have dared to innovate without Lionel's permission, even if they believed in his blindness, so his father must know.

"Martha," he whispered, clenching his fists.

Defiler. He could feel his lips peeling back from his teeth. If Lionel tried anything, he'd die. The anger rushed through him in waves, hot, heady, more vicious with every heartbeat.

There was a pop! and the mistletoe burst into flames. Lex stared at it, dumbfounded, until the sprinklers kicked in and an alarm keened out over the sound of `Silver Bells.'

Terrified party consultants ran into the room; one hustled him out while the others fretted and pushed and otherwise made idiots of themselves. After a minute, the sprinklers went off and the guests resumed their earlier drinking and babbling, while Lex stood in the hall and thought. Thought about frequencies above and below the visible spectrum, and about just how much he could see if he looked in the right places.

Clark came rushing up. "Are you all right?" he asked, taking Lex by the shoulders.

"I just set a sprig of mistletoe on fire by staring at it," he said, after checking to ensure that no one was in listening range. "I'm damp and extremely curious, but otherwise fine."

Clark blushed and dragged a toe on the floor. "Um, that's weird? Mistletoe, hunh? Who were you thinking about?" he asked, his teasing tone designed to distract Lex.

"Your mom," he admitted, even though he hadn't meant to involve Clark in this latest Luthor outrage. Clark's face twisted in what he recognized as disgust. "I think my father had the mistletoe put up so he could seduce her," he tried to explain, which only made Clark wince harder. "I got mad, and, boom, fire."

"Mad?" Clark gasped, with an oddly relieved look. "Oh. Oh. Oh, yuck, your dad?" His head whipped around, doubtless seeking Lionel.

"Yes, and what's with you? Other than the obvious."

"Oh, um. Yeah, the heat vision. Sort of. Came up for me -" Clark blushed even darker - "when I was. Thinking about girls," he finished in a rush.

"Sex made fire shoot from your eyes?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice down. "And you thought that I was thinking -" Clark nodded sheepishly. "I may never have sex again," he finished, sounding strangled.

Clark raised his eyebrows.

"Okay, I may not have sex for the next few days," he conceded.

"I hope -- Wait, focus," Clark demanded, and grabbed his wet sleeve. "Your dad is trying to seduce my mom?"

"You can't confront him about it," Lex snarled. "Don't make it a challenge, or he will use any method at his disposal to win. Don't worry. Your mom can handle herself."

He'd feel a lot better if he were sure about that. He'd never seen Lionel fail in a seduction, and that wasn't because Lionel only paraded his successes about. He'd have to figure out what to do later, and in the meantime reassure and distract Clark. Speaking of distraction, Clark had gone beyond tacit acknowledgement and had actually said something about his powers. That required sustained thought, once he had a moment.

"About the, um, fire," Clark said awkwardly. "The meteors. Must have done something. I didn't - want to end up in some institution, like Tina or Eric or. Well, you get the idea."

Lex nodded slowly. "I understand." A lot better than you think, Clark. Most meteor mutants are strong and fast, but not as strong and fast as you are. And most only got one wish out of all those falling stars, whereas you seem to have gotten Aladdin's lamp. I think you're lying. There is more, and I will know.

In an ordinary situation, he'd be certain that none of this was showing on his face, but the situation wasn't ordinary and it wasn't even his face, so he wouldn't take any bets.

"But what are we going to do about my mom?" Clark asked again. It was clear their little alliance was fragmenting into different priorities.

"Clark," he said and cupped Clark's shoulder in his hand, waiting until he made eye contact. "Sometimes you can't do anything. When he makes his move, she'll know, and she'll tell him no. You can't do that for her. And she doesn't need you to."

Clark's face was losing that terrible vulnerability, returning to a closed-off expression Lex found more appropriate.

"She trusts you, right? Because she and your dad raised you to do the right thing. You've got to trust her to do that, too."

Finally, Clark nodded, and Lex released him. "Now go back to the party. You've been gone too long."

"What about you?"

Lex grimaced. "I'm sure the staff here can find a hair dryer. I'm going to dry off a bit and then come back."

"Ah, Lex," Mr. Luthor said from behind Clark's ear as his hand clamped down on the juncture of his shoulder and neck. Clark jumped and Mr. Luthor chuckled. "Where have you been? Your little `company' could use the contacts you could be making tonight." His hand continued moving across Clark's shoulder with little squeezes every inch or so, like a very bad massage.

"I've been around," Clark managed, after a few calming breaths. Should he turn around and face Mr. Luthor? Staying like this would be insulting, which Lex might do, but would also leave his back exposed to Mr. Luthor, which Lex might not want. He had developed a sudden and complete understanding of why having your back to someone was a vulnerable position, and so he decided to turn. As a bonus, it got him out from under Mr. Luthor's hand.

Mr. Luthor's grin was unnerving. It would be easy to believe that he could still see under those dark glasses, and was just waiting to take the best advantage of that.

"You're off your game, son." Talking to Lex often involved layers of subtext, and it ran in the family. Unfortunately, Clark didn't understand a word of Mr. Luthor's subtext; as it was, he could only follow about a quarter of Lex's.

He was angry, he realized. Not just because Mr. Luthor was hitting on his mom, but because Mr. Luthor had tried to cut Lex as if he were an apple tree being trained, until all he could bear was poisoned fruit. "Maybe I'm not playing a game, Father."

Mr. Luthor laughed, loud enough that even more people turned to stare openly. "Oh, Lex, I'm so tired of hearing that. Can't you think of something more original? Or something that might be true?"

Clark was glad that he didn't have his powers. It let his surge of hatred be purer, unconcerned with restraining himself from decisive physical violence. "Maybe if you said something original, I'd get a new reply. And as for truth? You wouldn't recognize it if it came up and bit your beard off."

He turned on his heel and stalked off. He didn't know where he was going, but stalking off was definitely required.

When he saw Terry over with some other girls, he decided to go over to her. Then, he hoped, the people watching him stalk would stop. It wasn't an attitude he could pull off for very long.

"Hello again," he said, joining her and her friends.

"A second visit, Alex? You must think you're going to get lucky."

One of the unknown blondes giggled. "Not luck, right? Skill."

Clark tried to look suave, but probably just looked like he had an upset stomach. "Can't a man talk to a friend without being suspected of an ulterior motive?"

"A man, yes." Terry ran her hand from his wrist to his elbow. "Not you."

How could Lex live like this? It was exhausting, trying to keep up with the dialogue and the innuendo. At least Clark got time off at home, where he didn't have to hide.

"Ladies, if you'll excuse us," she said to the rest of the group, "I think Alex and I have some old times to remember."

Smiling as if they knew something he didn't, they dispersed, leaving just Terry and Clark standing at the side of the room.

"So, what have you been up to?" he asked, trying to keep his hands at his sides in a Lex-lounging way. He leaned up against the wall, because he'd seen Lex do it so many times, and let one hand trail along the smooth paneled wood.

Lex was a very tactile person, he realized.

Terry was smiling wickedly at him. "As if you don't know."

"Tell me your side of the story," he suggested, and her smile increased in wattage.

"Well," she said, and launched into a complicated story involving debentures, options and other things that hadn't been covered in his Home Ec class. "Am I boring you?" she asked sweetly after about five minutes, maybe noticing the glazed look in his eyes.

"Not at all," he said. "I was just thinking that LexCorp makes things. And all this - trading you were talking about, that's far away from the real making, but somewhere underneath it, there's oil, or cattle, or even fertilizer."

"Alex, you're turning into a man of the soil!" she exclaimed, trailing a hand across his chest. "All plain-spoken and *well-grounded*." From her mouth, it sounded like an insult. "It's the money that matters, in the end. You know that. Or are the rumors true and you're thinking of running for public office?"

Clark looked into her pretty face. Up close, he could see that she was wearing the same kinds of makeup Lana wore, only somehow less obvious. And when had she gotten within six inches, anyhow? He swallowed. "I'm twenty-two," he lied. "I think public service can wait a few years, until LexCorp is established."

Terry chuckled and brought her hand up to grasp his chin. "Twenty-two, and three years ago you did me in the Christmas tree in the main ballroom. What sort of mischief do you think we could get into tonight?"

Whatever he was going to say, it was cut off by her mouth. He realized quickly that what Jessie had in enthusiasm, she lacked in technique, because Terry's tongue was working his mouth with enough skill that she probably could have sucked his brain out.

Thinking about sucking was not good.

Although he hadn't done anything but lean into the kiss, Terry was now wrapped around Clark in a way suggesting that she might not have any bones, but she sure as heck had breasts. "Wanna go mess up the coats?" she whispered, ending with a lick along the curve of his ear that made him gulp and toss his head back against the wall.

Lex and Terry used to be together, so it wouldn't be out of character - but Terry thought she was with Lex, and he couldn't go with her under false pretenses. Not to mention that he was guessing that Lex knew a lot more about what to do with a naked woman than Jessie had gotten around to teaching him in one night.

"As pleasant as that would be," he ground out, trying to imitate Lex's unworried tone, "I think I should probably circulate around here. LexCorp is very young."

"So are you," she pointed out and curled her hand around his erection. "Big bad Alex, running his own company while the rest of us are all still getting our MBAs."

Lex. He was not Lex. He was supposed to play Lex. A sudden image of Lex and Terry, creamy white bodies entwined, kissing and touching, forced his eyes shut. He wanted to touch her, touch them, put his hands where Lex's had been.

"Who's your friend, Lex?"

It took him a few seconds to figure out that the question was directed to him, from Lex. He gaped as Lex moved to stand at his Terry-unoccupied side.

"I'm Terry," she said, holding her hand out across Clark's body so that her arm brushed his stomach.

"Clark," Lex said, reaching out to shake her hand with a friendly expression as he put his other hand on Clark's back, sliding up to Clark's shoulders. The sensation of being surrounded by two sexy people was not entirely pleasant, in large part because Clark was pretty sure that he was about twelve seconds away from coming in his pants. While Lex might conceivably be able to forgive him for being an alien, forgiving an embarrassment of that magnitude would probably be beyond Lex's capacity.

"How do you know Alex?" Terry asked, smiling.

"We met in Smallville." Lex smiled back, and Clark flashed on a Discovery Channel documentary he'd seen once, two panthers circling, waiting for the fight to start.

"They do grow them pretty out in the sticks," Terry said lazily, looking to Clark for some reaction. Unfortunately, his reaction was already pressing against Lex's tailored pants.

Lex, praise God, realized that Clark was out of his depth, and stepped in. "I think Lex is enjoying our little catfight a bit too much," he said and tugged Clark gently away from Terry. "And in Smallville, we don't share."

Clark did his best to call up a smirk in response.

"I might be willing to limit myself to watching," Terry said slowly, her eyes moving from Lex to Clark and back again.

"Why don't you give Lex a call when you think you can afford that, and we'll talk price?" Lex said sweetly, and they were walking away as Terry's eyes widened and her mouth worked.

Lex hustled Clark into a bathroom, glanced quickly at the stalls, and jerked his head at the attendant, who left posthaste.

"Is she going to be mad at you?" Clark asked, because he really needed to formulate a coherent sentence, just to demonstrate that it was possible.

"Terry? Nah," Lex said and looked him over. "We need to do something about that. And since I don't see a cold shower -"

Clark squeaked as Lex's clever hands dove into his pants, unbuttoning them with a speed that had nothing to do with alien powers and everything to do with obvious practice. "Oh God," he said to the ceiling as Lex pushed him back against a wall and dropped to his knees, swallowing him in whole in an eyeblink, and if the `he's were confused, so was Clark. He put his hands back against the tile and felt the cool air on his naked head, such a sharp contrast to the hot wetness of Lex's mouth. Looking down, he saw his own face, eyes shut in concentration, sucking cock.

"Oh God," he said again, because it seemed like such an accurate summary. Lex smiled and slipped a hand underneath his bobbing head, massaging Clark's balls with smooth fingertips.

The orgasm was like getting hit by lightning, only good, loosening every muscle in his body, blowing every fuse in his head.

When he could see again, Lex had already zipped and buttoned his pants. "Give me some money," Lex suggested. "That attendant deserves a big tip."

Clark fumbled for Lex's wallet and, rather than poke around in it, handed the whole thing to Lex, whose fingers paused over the cash and then settled on a hundred-dollar bill. When he looked in the mirror, the expression on his face was as close to Lex's constant self-satisfaction as he'd yet achieved. Maybe Lex looked like that because he knew he could do that - could rewrite history and make the sun go down with his mouth, and God knew what else.

Clark cleared his throat as Lex returned the wallet. "Um, do I ever get a turn?" His voice was smaller and less steady than he'd hoped.

Lex stilled entirely, not quite meeting his eyes. "Do you want a turn?"

Words weren't ever enough with Lex; the tone was always half of the message. "Yes," he said, and this time it came out firm and clear.

"After the party," Lex said and strode through the door, pressing the bill into the hand of the blank-faced attendant who'd stationed himself in front of the bathroom.

Clark followed, smiling, because Lex wasn't looking at him and that meant that Lex didn't want him to see how good Clark had made him feel. He'd be feeling a lot better later on, Clark thought and then blushed at his own innuendo.

"Lex, do you think you could take Clark home?" Martha asked. "Lionel has asked a few people to stay after the party, and I need to stay here. I know it's an imposition -"

"Of course it's not," Clark said, trying to keep smiling, because Lex would do that. "But are you sure he needs you? You'll be home so late -"

She put a hand on his shoulder. "You're sweet to worry, Lex, but I'll be fine."

Don't make it a challenge, Lex had said, and he'd seen enough of Mr. Luthor to understand that Lex was one hundred and fifty percent right about that. But he could talk to his mom, right?

"M - Martha," he said, leaning closer to her, "it's not the late hour I'm worried about. It's my father's intentions."

His mom stiffened and pulled away. "I don't think this is an appropriate conversation," she said icily, pulling her wrap more tightly around her shoulders.

"I don't think that Lionel Luthor is an appropriate man!" he said, barely managing to keep his voice low.

"I'll thank you to let me be the judge of what's appropriate for me," she said, and started to turn away.

He had to fix this. "I'm sorry!" he said hastily, and reached out, only to let his hand fall when he recognized it as the slim and manicured hand of someone who wasn't her son. "I just -"

She turned and smiled, though it was a wintry one. "I know Lionel. I know what he wants, just like I know what you want. I think you'll find that Clark and I are not as susceptible as you think. Or fear. Thank you for taking Clark home." She turned, and the set of her shoulders indicated that she had nothing more to say.

Oh God. She knew? Why didn't she just smack Mr. Luthor? And, Lex wanted? His mom knew what Lex wanted, and he didn't? She had to mean that Lex and Mr. Luthor wanted the same things. Which made recent events both more and less confusing. Also, he was increasingly certain that he was as susceptible as Lex thought. Or feared. Did that mean she could be wrong about herself?

Clark sat heavily on the nearest chair, ignoring the people pretending to talk four feet away while they stared at him.

Lex strolled up, looking completely at home among the rich and powerful. With one dismissive glance, he scattered the nearby onlookers and sat down next to Clark, propping his elbows on his knees in imitation of Clark's posture.

"Growing up sucks."

Lex grinned ruefully at him. "Beats the hell out of the alternative."

"I just talked to my mom about your dad."

Beside him, Lex winced. He should really listen to Lex when human behavior was involved, just like Lex should listen to him about right and wrong. "I take it the conversation did not go as well as you'd hoped."

"She told me to buzz off." Also, she told me that you wanted me back when I was in the alien freak's body, and is that true? "She says she's not susceptible."

Lex's hand enveloped his, and he was surprised enough to squeeze it even before he remembered that he couldn't do any damage that way. "It's hard enough to control your own behavior. Don't get started with your parents. That way madness lies."

"This isn't supposed to happen."

"I'm sorry," Lex said and looked away. Clark took a closer look at him and recognized guilt.

"What are you apologizing for?"

"If I hadn't - If I'd left Smallville when my father told me to. If I'd said no to the surgery. If I'd - if I'd let him die -"

"Don't!" Clark said and reached out with his free hand to grab Lex's chin. Lex let his face be turned back. "All those things were good decisions. You aren't responsible for the consequences."

"No, I just caused them," Lex said, and the resignation in his voice was painful to hear.

He was wrong, of course. Clark had caused all this. It was his fault, not Lex's. There was some life lesson here, something in between the pot versus the kettle and `physician, heal thyself.' Dad would probably know.

"Your father caused them," he said, and was surprised to find that he believed it. "And my mom can make the right decision. There doesn't have to be an unhappy ending."

"You sure about that?" Lex asked, looking half disbelieving and half hopeful. Clark wanted to kiss him more than he'd ever wanted to kiss anyone before. Except that the person he wanted to kiss wasn't bald and blue-eyed at present.

This, he thought, gets more disturbing by the minute.

"I've heard rumors," he said, pulling back from Lex, and was rewarded with a grin. "Come on, let's get out of here."

As they stood in front of the elevator, he realized that he might have been too hasty. "Is there anyone I should say goodbye to?"

Lex shook his head. "There's nobody here who'd be offended if I didn't."

People were still watching them. God, what if he got his name in the paper with Lex? He'd been crucified once already in high school; he'd hate for it to happen a second time.

"What's wrong?" Lex asked, watching him curiously.

"Nothing," he lied, which Lex accepted with his usual grace as the elevator arrived and they headed down to the garage.

It struck Clark, as he entered the limo and scooted over to make room for Lex, that he'd confessed his freakishness, in part, and Lex hadn't looked at him any differently. He hadn't even said, `Oh, that explains that business with Desiree' or joked about letting Clark off the hook for the fire damage to the Talon. He'd known for a while that Lex knew that he wasn't normal, at least subconsciously, but it was different to say something and not have Lex flip out the way Pete had.

Lex was a really good friend. He deserved nice things. Not expensive things, but nice things. Maybe he'd think that kissing Clark was a nice thing. Weren't limos made for decadent behavior like drinking and making out? Bow ties and cummerbunds (and wow, that word sounded obscene) were supposed to be loosened and tossed aside, giddily, while the passengers drank champagne and ate strawberries from each other's fingers. There weren't any strawberries present, he thought, but he could innovate. He tried to shift his body towards Lex, and turned in invitation.

Lex smiled at him, then looked again and frowned. Clark froze, his hand halfway to Lex's thigh. Lex leaned over, so that his lips were only inches from Clark's cheek.

"Clark," he whispered, "the driver takes a bribe from my father to report on me."

This must be what being doused in ice water felt like, to a human. He wanted to shrivel and die, and he pushed himself up against the door, as far away from Lex as he could get without actually jumping from a moving vehicle.

Lex looked distressed, but didn't say anything.

Clark stared out the window, trying to think of something other than the way Lex's eyes looked when Clark rescued him, for the rest of the way to the castle.

Changed back into civilian clothes, Lex sat at the kitchen counter, deliberately shoveling food into the empty cavern Clark called a stomach. Just three hours after the last hors d'oeuvre, and he was ravenous again. On the upside, it all tasted good. Muted sensibility was a boon when you had to consume everything edible in sight, like a very large locust. Clark sat and watched, his body twisted in such an awkward pose that Lex had to restrain himself from going over and fixing his posture. God only knew what the servants were thinking, or saying to Lionel.

When all was secure in the stomach sector, he pushed his plate away and went for a cup of coffee. Returning with the coffee and a small pewter pitcher of milk, he sat next to Clark.

"So, anything you want to tell me? About yourself?" he prodded.

"Urm," Clark said. After a few seconds, it was apparent that `urm' was Clark's final word on the subject.

Lex had a few ideas about how to get a more intelligible response.

He poured the milk into the coffee and held on to the empty pitcher. "Hey, here's a neat trick," he said and crushed the pewter in his fist. He squeezed, and the metal compressed and heated, finally beginning to run between his fingers in hot liquid drops that burned holes in his ugly flannel shirt and hissed when they hit the counter.

"Hey!" Clark protested and reached out. "Jeez! Do you know how much those shirts cost?"

Lex jerked away, putting his hand behind his back. "God, be careful! You could -" He stopped and looked at Clark, for the first time understanding so many things. "Get hurt," he finished slowly. "I could hurt you."

Clark nodded gravely. Lex, unable to look at him for the moment, went to the sink and washed the remains of the pitcher from his hand and upper arm. He had to use steel wool to get the last bits off, and he couldn't help but flinch as he started to rub, even knowing that it wouldn't hurt. Clark, he thought, wouldn't have flinched.

"So," he said, returning to where Clark sat. "It's been made apparent to me that I'm driving a non-standard model."

Clark looked down at the counter. "I don't know if that's true."

"What do you mean, you don't know if it's true?" Of all the bullshit Clark shoveled, and he'd shoveled some pretty heavy loads -

"I mean, I don't know what's standard. For my people."

Lex opened his mouth, then paused and thought about it. "We aren't talking about gypsies, are we?"

"That's not funny, Lex!" Clark banged his fist against the counter in frustration.

"Really? Because, frankly, freakish billionaire's son trading spaces with a spaceboy? That's comedy gold, Clark." He rubbed at the back of his head and was surprised anew to encounter hair.

"I'm not a boy," Clark muttered. "And you're not a freak."

The fact that Clark could add that, after all Lex's provocation, made him feel like an utter heel. He put his hand on Clark's shoulder, hyperaware that he could crush bones with a careless squeeze. "I'm sorry, Clark. I don't - deal with stress the way you do. It's much easier to make light of the problem."

"I know." Clark reached out in turn, smiling a pure, open smile that looked bizarre on Lex's face. "We'll deal with it somehow."

"Okay, yeah." He paused, mind running through various possibilities. "So, where are you from?"

Clark frowned. "I don't know. My parents abandoned me, that part's true. I arrived in a - a ship. It's down in the storm cellar."

Lex felt a pang on Clark's behalf. He didn't know what he could say to counter the fact that Clark's parents (if he had parents) had gone so far in getting rid of him as to send him to an entirely different planet. He also didn't want to press too hard on the spaceship issue. Yet. The situation called for a change of subject. "You know, this could work out really well for me. Sure, I've lost a fortune, but I've also gained in privacy, irresponsibility and raw physical attractiveness."

"You're still joking, right?"

Clark's face was heartbreakingly sincere. It was as if he could see Clark himself, peeking out from underneath Lex's flesh. He brushed his knuckles down Clark's smooth cheek. "Not about the raw physical attractiveness," he said, an unexpected tenderness in his voice. Maybe Clark's heart was big enough to de-Grinch even him.

Clark's lips parted, begging to be kissed. Kissing wasn't a blowjob; with Clark at least, it would be a commitment. Lex leaned in, about to surrender, when he realized that it was late, and Jonathan was doubtless waiting up until both he and Martha returned.

"I should probably be getting to the farm," he said roughly.

"I don't want to be alone in this place," Clark confessed. "Does your dad, um, always touch you like that?"

"I don't want you to be alone here either," he dodged. "Any chance your parents will approve a sleepover?" He tried not to sound too hopeful.

Clark shook his head. "If this lasts much longer, we're going to have to tell them."

"As joyous as that prospect makes me, I'd rather put it off until I have time to incorporate this new information and maybe run a few experiments."

"Experiments." All the life drained from Clark's face.

"Not - nothing like that, Clark. I swear. Just to see how we can undo this. Nothing else. After all, I seem to have a vested interest in your body."

"And if - when we switch back?" It was amazing how expressive his face was when Clark was animating it. Hopeful and fearful all at once.

"When we switch back, I guarantee you that I will retain a vested interest in your body." Too much information, a potential tactical blunder of the highest order, but possibly the only thing Clark might believe kept him safe. If he were Clark, he wouldn't believe a Luthor's protestations of disinterested friendship. He was struggling with disbelief himself.

Clark's blush was almost as bright as his smile.

"Wait," Clark commanded as Lex turned to head for the door.


"My turn. You said I could have my turn."

Lex turned back and sighed at the eagerness on Clark's face. "Clark, this has been a trying few days. Emotions have been running high, and I've perhaps been too casual about exploring the - peculiarities of our situation."

Clark frowned, then smiled again, moving across the kitchen floor. "You're scared."

Of course I am, he thought. "You should also know that the inclinations you feel may be biologically grounded in my body. You've never hinted at any interest before -"

"How hard were you looking?" Clark asked in a tone he probably hoped was deceptively casual, and stepped closer.

"You're sixteen years old, you're responding to the fact of sexual attention -"

"You're a big fraidy cat."

How had he gotten backed against the door?

"You can make me do anything you want," Clark said, making it sound like a promise, and went to his knees.

Lex blessed the difficulties of button-fly jeans, which gave him a few extra moments to think. "I can't lose your friendship. I can't. Do you understand that?"

Clark blinked up at him through his implanted eyelashes. "You won't. And you probably should have thought of that before you sucked my dick."

"Good point," he said faintly as Clark's hands pushed his jeans and briefs down his hips. Only forwards, he thought. Then thought became exponentially more difficult as Clark's soft, tentative lips closed over his cock, pushing at the foreskin in a way that had to be a trade secret among the uncut.

While he still remembered, he clenched his hands into fists.

Apparently Lex's body memories did not include deep throating, because Clark stopped about halfway. He moved his head back and forth, and Lex realized that baldness looked very different from this angle. His cock disappeared and reappeared, and it was like watching video of himself and feeling it at the same time.

He could already feel the orgasm heading towards him like a guided missile. In a sixteen-year-old body, it was acceptable, not to mention that Clark would probably appreciate speed his first time out.

Clark slipped a tentative hand between his legs, and it was enough to push him over, into a world of light and heat and joy. His cock pulsed and he struggled to keep his hips from thrusting. Clark, of course, had no idea that swallowing was optional and continued to suck him until he pulled away. Ah, it was good to get them early, before they'd formed any bad habits.

He smiled down, brain buzzing with satisfaction and another emotion he was too superstitious to name. Clark licked his lips, tasting.

"Satisfied with your turn?" he asked, grateful that his voice didn't crack.

"Almost," Clark said and rose with a newfound grace. Reaching out, he grabbed the collar of Lex's shirt and pulled him into a kiss. For two people who'd met in a car crash and shaken hands later, it was an appropriate sequence of events, he thought and closed his eyes. He never closed his eyes when kissing; one could miss valuable information that way. But this way, he found, it was easier to concentrate on the sensations: the almost imperceptible dip of the scar on his mouth, the feel of his tongue running along his teeth, the way Clark sighed and pressed himself into Lex's embrace, the lingering taste of come in Clark's mouth.

After a while, possibly longer than the blowjob, Lex tugged himself away and fixed his clothes. "How about now?"

"Wha?" Clark was flushed, his eyes shining, and Lex hoped that if he'd ever looked that sex-stunned, he'd at least had a great time.

"Are you satisfied now?" he repeated.

Clark smiled. "Yeah. But you better figure out how to switch us back soon, `cause I'm getting some sort of complex. It can't be healthy to like kissing yourself."

Lex chuckled. "Okay, Narcissus. Starting tomorrow, I'm your full-time mad scientist. Good night." He kissed Clark quickly, because it seemed like the thing to do, and then waited expectantly.

"Good night," Clark said, his eyes luminous.

After about ten seconds, he blinked a few times at Clark. When that didn't work, he laughed again. "The leaving part works better when you give me enough room to open the door."

"Oh!" Clark jumped back, delightfully flustered. "Sorry."

Lex grinned - yes, this one would have to qualify as a grin, even though Luthors never did anything so pedestrian - and turned to open the door. "Tomorrow, Clark."

"Tomorrow," Clark repeated, his voice full of wonder.

Outside the kitchen, Lex paused once more to look up at the night sky. Which, he wondered, out of all them bright stars was Clark's? Not just superhuman, but alien, like a gift from Heaven just for Lex.

He took his opportunity to see as Clark could see, looking up at a sky suddenly glowing bright with radiation, full of stars that pulsed and throbbed like living creatures. He felt a surge of protectiveness for Clark. Other people wouldn't ask what the stars were like; they'd want to dissect Clark and gain his powers or simply kill him because he might be a threat.

Nothing's going to harm you, not while I'm around, he promised.

Then he realized that he was quoting Toby, the half-witted and murderous boy from `Sweeney Todd,' which was really not the allusion he wanted. He had barbers on the brain, that was all.

With an outstretched hand and a mighty arm, he'd protect Clark from those who'd exploit or hurt him.

That was much better.

Clark barely slept, and was up before dawn, waiting for Lex. Even with the farm only a few miles away, he felt half a world away, and homesick. He'd thought that Lex was the one who needed rescuing, but now he wasn't sure.

Maybe it would be better, if they could rescue each other. Being rescued - he thought it ate at Lex, to know that he had needed saving, to think that he hadn't erased the debt. If Lex could redeem Clark, Lex might be able to be his friend. Or something more.

Blessedly, Lex arrived soon after dawn, his shirt cuffs still muddy from putting in that fence that Dad had been making noises about for the past ten days or so. The staff wasn't up so early on a weekend, so they scrounged a second breakfast for Lex and something for Clark. There was plenty of fruit, and things Lex said were bagels, though they were much crunchier on the outside than Clark had expected from bagels. He'd always thought that bagels were basically rolls with holes, but he kept his mouth shut, not wanting another lecture from Lex about authenticity, rural life, and the wonder that was Metropolis. Yeah, he got it, Metropolis was the City on a Hill, a Xanadu, Sodom and Gomorrah and Jerusalem rolled into one, a moveable feast, a neverending party, full of everything a man could imagine and not a few things he couldn't. Clark just wanted breakfast.

Over the food, they talked about the plan, such as there was.

"Our basic task is to find out how this happened and then how to reverse it." Lex stabbed at a stray piece of fruit on his plate.

"I know how it happened. It happened because I'm a freak. An alien freak."

Lex shook his head. "'All that is Earth has once been sky.' You're just a little more latter-day than the rest of us."

He looked serious, like he wasn't just saying it to make Clark feel better. Clark smiled, though he knew it was probably shaky.

"We have a more practical problem. I need to know everything about your powers and the meteor rocks. Don't assume that something's irrelevant just because it doesn't seem connected to this. We don't have enough knowledge to overlook any information."

That seemed reasonable, even though it was exactly what Lex would say if he had ... other plans for Clark. Either he's trustworthy or he's not, Clark reasoned. And if not, well, those horses had not only left the barn, they were out of state by now. The only way out was through, like that guy in the Shakespeare play who was in so far in blood that returning the way he came would be harder than going on. There were a few things that needed immediate clearing up, though. "You hit me, that day."

Lex nodded. "And you're as strong as Herakles and as fleet as Hermes. I don't offhand remember any Greek gods or godlings who could see through walls or set things on fire with their eyes, but we'll take those as read too."

"Um, I float. Sometimes."

Lex blinked, and Clark was almost satisfied to have surprised him. "When it comes to the laws of physics, Clark, you're a habitual felon. All right. Anything else?"

"Meteor rocks hurt me. Lead protects me from them. I can't see through lead either. Oh, and the paperweight you had? The octagon? It's from my ship."

"Fucking Nixon," Lex spat and reached out a fist to slam against the table, checking it only at the last moment as he remembered that he was not himself. "Bastard stole it and lost it."

"Well, that's kind of a funny story," Clark said and grinned nervously. Lex looked up through lowered eyelashes. "Um, he found the spaceship. And the octagon sort of ... acted up. Flew over to the spaceship and fit into a space on it. The ship turned on and flew out, into the tornado. We didn't see it again for a few months, and when we did find it, the octagon was gone again. Oh, and Dr. Hamilton stole the ship for a while, but we got it back."

Lex ran his hand through his hair, looking frustrated and fascinated. "Okay. Okay. Do you know anything else about your origins or differences?"

"No. But - red meteor rocks. When I wore one in my class ring, it made me -"

"I remember," Lex said, and there were so many levels to that statement that Clark would have needed an elevator to visit them all. "So, what else about the meteor rocks? What have you seen, what do you know?"

"The most important thing, probably, is Eric Summers," he said, and began to tell Lex about the sides of Smallville he didn't know.

And that was how he ended up searching the fields for meteor rocks while Lex consulted his computer back at the castle. The rocks scared him, even though he couldn't be hurt so badly by them now. He wondered what else they could do to Lex's body, though. It seemed as if the meteor rocks allowed one really big change in a person, and Lex had already had his shot. On the other hand, repeated exposure might cause another set of changes. The thought of Lex with Rickman's powers - the thought of Lex having to decide what to do with Rickman's powers - was chilling. No one should have to face that kind of temptation, especially no one who'd been brought up to think he couldn't trust other people.

After a few hours, he'd collected about ten pounds of meteor rocks. The ease with which he collected them was frightening: Smallville was just full of silent death, waiting for him to stumble over another cluster. He headed back to the castle with a queasy feeling in his stomach.

Lex, at least, was in a good mood when he returned. He'd left the meteor rocks near the main entrance, far enough from Lex's office that Lex shouldn't feel them.

"Any luck?" Lex said, peering up from his computer screen.

"Yeah. You?"

"I've got some ideas. I want to see the meteor rocks in action on this body, and then some tests with the meteor rocks and electricity. If everything goes as it should, we can try to reverse the transfer."

Clark nodded. "Where do you want to do the tests?"

"I've got a lab downstairs."

That was a little too Dr. Frankenstein for comfort, Clark thought, but refrained from saying anything. Eccentric genius scientist, castle, electricity, human bodies, meteor rocks to cast the necessary greenish glow over everything - actually, it was a lot too Dr. Frankenstein.

He reminded himself that his suspicion might be the only thing Lex needed to become untrustworthy. He couldn't be half-assed about this; that would screw it up for sure. "We'll need something made of lead to store the meteor rocks in."

Lex nodded. "I had some lead-lined vests for X-rays delivered from Metropolis and rigged a box we can use." He gestured, and Clark saw a metal box the size of a pet carrier in one corner.

"I'll put the meteor rocks away," he said and grabbed the box. It was heavy enough that he was panting by the time he reached the foyer, but at least he didn't have to look at Lex and reveal his fears.

It was a matter of moments to shovel the rocks into the carrier. Somehow, Lex had attached the puffy material of the vests to all the inner surfaces of the box, including the lid. It closed tight, and he hoped it would be enough.

"You ready?" Lex's voice echoed down the hall.

"Yeah," he called, and followed Lex through the kitchen and down a flight of wooden stairs, into a chilly basement.

Clark gasped when the lights came on. The lab was huge, easily bigger than his parents' house, and doors at various points suggested that the underground facilities had as big a footprint as the castle entire.

At Lex's direction, he put the box on a side table, near a cluster of canisters and glassware that looked like a deluxe version of the equipment in his chemistry classroom. Various black boxes, microphone-like things, and even less identifiable machines were pointed at the spot where he stood in front of the meteor box. Lex came up behind him while he was still positioning the box.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on the feel of Lex's hot breath on the back of his neck. Lex's hands came up, settling on his waist. "How are you doing?"

"Nervous," he admitted. "This stuff - it really hurts, Lex."

He could hear Lex choke off a breath and swallow, suppressing whatever he'd first wanted to say. Something like, `What would you know about pain, Clark?' "But you've recovered from moderate exposure, right? No long-term consequences?"

"No." Not that he knew of, which went without saying.

"Hey." Lex's hands pressed against him, and he turned around so that they were face to face. "This isn't an exercise in masochism, Clark. I just need to know what I'm dealing with, all right?"

Clark nodded, and took the opportunity to kiss Lex, tilting his head up (still disorienting). Lex's lips were soft, unaggressive, and he let Clark take the lead, tugging at Lex's collar, searching through his mouth as though he could find proof of Lex's sincerity there.

When he pulled away, Lex was breathing harder.

"That's what you're dealing with," he said, and Lex nodded, his eyes unfocused.

"You ought to stand back," Lex said after a moment, and he complied. Slowly, Lex reached out to lift the box's lid, and then pushed it open with one rush of strength.

Clark watched as Lex's veins bulged black-green over his skin. Clark had never just stood and watched it happen to anyone else. He hadn't realized how frightening it was. He didn't look human. Like some part of him was dead and decayed, reaching out to grab even more of his flesh.

Lex was gritting his teeth and swaying on his feet. Clark moved to close the box. Lex shook his head, even though the effort drew tears from his eyes.

But Lex didn't always know best, and he was in no shape to prevent Clark from pushing him away from the meteor rock. In fact, he collapsed on the cold concrete floor when Clark nudged him off-balance.

Clark slammed the box shut. "This isn't some test of how much you can handle!"

Lex looked up at him, reading his face. "Okay."

"So, now what?"

"Now I look at what I've got, and then I run some current through those rocks and look again. You can go watch a movie. Maybe `South Park,'" Lex suggested, brightening at the thought that he wouldn't have to sit through that particular film with Clark again.

"Mmm," Clark said noncommittally, unwilling to leave Lex alone until he'd entirely finished with the meteor rocks. He decided to get the backpack full of homework that Lex had hauled over.

Lex tapped numbers into his computer and watched obscure graphics form and collapse. The latter was apparently a Bad Thing, because he always scowled when it happened. Clark had finished his homework hours before, and he had the feeling that he was getting on Lex's nerves. The corollary to Lex's effortless public presentation was that Lex really, really didn't like being looked at when he wasn't ready to be looked at.

"I'm going to get a snack," he said, and watched Lex's shoulders relax a bit under the flannel.

There had to be something he could do, he thought as he wandered through the kitchen, looking at the Tiger Mart's worth of supplies in various cupboards.

The cabinet of sweets gave him an idea. He went to the phone.


"Hi, m - Martha. It's Lex Luthor." You know, as opposed to that other Lex who's always hanging around. Still, Lex would have said that, so it was okay.

"Hello, Lex. How are you?"

He winced. Her tone had cooled substantially between one `hello' and the next.

"I'm fine. And you?"

"Fine," she said, as if she were making a point. "Is something wrong?"

"No! Uh, no. I just - I was wondering if I could get your chocolate chip cookie recipe. Clark's hanging out here, and -" Would Lex say `hanging out'? Probably not. God, he wasn't going to survive this for much longer.

"You want to bake?" She sounded surprised, but at least a little less cold.

"Yeah - yes. The castle has a huge kitchen, and it doesn't ordinarily get much of a workout, so I thought -"

"Do you have a pen?" his mom interrupted before he could sound even less like Lex.

"Yes," he said, moving to get one from the jar beside the phone.

Clark took down the ingredients and the directions, which were much more complicated than the ingredients, with a smile on his face. His mom sounded so confident and happy when she was talking about things she did really well. The way she sounded when she talked about her job with Mr. Luthor.

Maybe that really was all there was to it. His mom stretching her wings, and what Mr. Luthor thought about it didn't matter.

"Lex?" He snapped back to attention. "Did you get all that?"

"Yes," he said, looking down at the memo pad where he'd scrawled the recipe. That was another thing that couldn't be faked much longer - Lex's handwriting. Clark's left-handed script was an odd mixture of his and Lex's, and Clark suspected that Lex himself was having difficulty with his signature. "That sounds great, Martha. I appreciate it."

"You boys have fun baking cookies," she said.

He thanked her and hung up, wondering if there had been a pause after `fun,' or if he'd just imagined it.

The first batch of cookies was a little gooey, and the final a little brown, but overall he'd have to declare them a success, he thought as he moved the last few onto the cooling rack he'd found deep in one of the cabinets. Lex would appreciate the effort, more than he'd appreciate truffles imported by Concorde from Paris. Not that Lex understood that about himself, which was a puzzle to Clark. It was like Lex's brilliance just turned off when it came to certain things.

Well, that was something Clark could give him that he didn't have and couldn't buy: a light in that darkness.

Also, chocolate chip cookies with fresh milk. He piled the coolest cookies on a plate, poured two glasses of milk, and put them all on one of the ubiquitous silver trays, this one with the initials `LL' in extremely flowery script. It looked like something Lana would like, and he was obscurely satisfied when he covered the engraving with the plate.

Balancing the tray, he trotted down the stairs, finding Lex in exactly the same position he'd been in over an hour ago.

Lex looked up at the noise, his expression abstracted and vague.

"Cookie?" Clark offered, holding out the tray.

Lex blinked, then stood in a rush. Clark put the tray down on a table well away from the meteor rocks and from Lex's expensive electronics, and they took side-by-side stools.

"These are amazing," Lex said around his sixth cookie. They had come out pretty well, thanks more to his mom's recipe than any innate talent, Clark thought as he bit into a still-liquid chip and sucked the chocolate off of his teeth. Lex cast an anxious look at Clark's half-full glass, and Clark pushed it towards him.

"Thanks," Lex said and finished it off.

"I'll get more." He rose, but Lex's hand at his elbow stopped him.

"Clark, thank you. This is ... Nobody ever made me chocolate chip cookies before."

"I can't do much else," he said and shrugged. Lex had the brains, and the brawn at present. He could even pull off beauty in his body, so he didn't really need Clark at all.

Lex's face clouded as his attention shifted further onto Clark. "That's not true. I can only imagine the strength it takes for you to do this - to be so vulnerable. I think you're the bravest person -"

He didn't think he could stand hearing more, so he shut Lex up the best way he knew how, with a milky, sugary kiss that became more involved than he'd first expected. His hands tangled in Lex's hair - bizarre! his internal freak-o-meter warned, but he was getting good at ignoring that particular measuring device - and Lex was off the stool, pressed up against him between his spread legs.

When he finally released Lex, they were both breathing hard. He stared into familiar hazel eyes, dilated so that he could almost see his reflection in the pupils. "You know this is really messed up, you and me together like this."

"How would I know that?" Lex asked reasonably, and when Clark thought it over, he saw the point. It was probably harder to figure out what was normal when normal lived two time zones away and had a restraining order out on you. Clark, at least, had grown up in normal's neighborhood, passing.

Unsure what else he could do, he kissed Lex again until Lex was tugging at his shirt, pulling it free from his belt and sliding his hot hands up Clark's chest. He shuddered as Lex's fingers traced the outlines of his muscles, skimmed across his nipples and moved to grip his shoulders underneath the fine cotton. Groaning into Lex's mouth, he fumbled with the buttons of Lex's shirt in turn.

"Someday, I swear, we're going to make it to a bed," Lex mumbled from behind his T-shirt as he pulled it over his head. That sounded good to Clark, but not as good as touching Lex, pushing him down to the floor with only their shirts to cushion away the cold. Lex wouldn't notice the temperature, and Clark was perfectly willing to use him as an insulating mattress.

Lex moaned and threw his head back when Clark stuck his hand into the old, overstressed jeans, and Clark paused to look at him. His cheeks were flushed, his eyelashes fluttering over glittering eyes, and he was Clark. Suddenly, it reminded him too much of Tina, and he wanted to see Lex, but Lex was around him and the only way to touch Lex was to put his hand through a mirror.

Lex was watching him now, with his hand frozen around his familiar-foreign dick and his other arm braced against the floor.

"It's okay, Clark, you can stop, it's okay." Lex's voice was shaky, and Clark thought he'd never told anyone it was okay to stop before now. Lex didn't know how to take people at their own paces, instead of breaking the speed limit because he wanted to.

Clark pulled away, and watched Lex bite down on his lip and struggle for control of his face. "I'm fine," he said softly. "Just - talk to me. Let me know it's you." Because now what he wanted was smooth, soft skin, not this wiry hairy tangle, and he had to know it was Lex if he was going to continue.

"I wanted you from the moment I saw you," Lex said, his voice so soft that it barely differed from his real voice. "I wanted you more when you returned the truck. I was glad you returned it, because it meant I'd get to spend more time figuring out what I could give you that you'd accept."

Clark shuddered and put his hand back, closing his eyes and listening for the tremors in Lex's voice.

"I wanted you - God! - so much that I bought the Talon. So you could have your chance with the girl of your dreams."

"Did you want me to get her?" he asked, breathing the words into Lex's mouth.

"Of course not!" Lex snapped, though the effect was mooted by the way he then gasped and arched up into Clark's hand. "I wanted you - to get - me."

There was something important in the wording, there, but Clark was in no position to analyze. "I did," he whispered, rubbing his lower body against Lex's. Lex thrust his hips, hard enough that Clark was momentarily lifted off of the floor, and came, hot against his hand.

As Lex relaxed, gasping, Clark thrust against his hard, steaming-hot body, rubbing against him as if maybe they could share bodies instead of switching. He put his sticky hand on Lex's chest, feeling the wild beat of his heart.

"Yeah, Clark," Lex panted. "Come on, come for me, Clark, I want it, I -"

Clark's mouth closed over Lex's, desperately, and he shuddered through the orgasm with Lex's tongue thrusting into his mouth the way he thought he might want Lex's cock inside him. The pulses seemed to last forever, each one dragging him to another level of pleasure, each one like tearing off a layer of skin. Like when Lex was done with him, he'd be just a bundle of nerves, with no way to hide.

He didn't want to hide from Lex ever again.

They lay in silence for a while, as the basement air grew colder against his skin. Lex half-dozed beneath him, and he pressed his cheek to Lex's throat, feeling the beginnings of another beard.

He was willing to try the shaving thing again, though he'd rather be on the receiving end of the razor.

When Lex had left the castle Saturday night, he was basically ready to try to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow, so to speak. He just thought it would be wiser to get a good night's sleep first, so he'd be rested and ready to react if anything went wrong.

Of course, if anything went wrong, he reflected as he trotted down the stairs, it was just as likely that the human half of the circuit would be as black and crunchy as a marshmallow fallen into a campfire, but it was better to be optimistic.

"I'm going out," he announced to Clark's parents as they made eyes at each other over the kitchen table. He had the strong suspicion - nay, certainty -- that they'd taken advantage of his day-long absence to, well, renew their intimate acquaintance. Several times, in several different rooms, if he didn't miss his guess. He approved, if only because of the implied insult to Lionel.

"To Lex's?" Jonathan Kent asked, with only about half of his usual Luthor-suspicion.


"Clark -"

"I just have a ... project to finish," he temporized. "After that, I don't have to - I won't -" He stopped, frustrated by the inability to say the words he ought.

The Kents were staring at him now, their expressions fading from doting to hyper-observant. "Clark," Jonathan said carefully. "We just worry that Lex might - hurt you."

"He can't," he said, his voice low.

"You can't know -"

"I know," he said. "I know."

Turning, he fled from the farmhouse, and started running towards the castle.

Lex hesitated at the top of the basement stairs, trying to force his legs to follow Clark down.

He could do a lot of things with this body, not the least of which was escape constant scrutiny. For all its secrets, Clark's body didn't wear its freakishness on the outside, the way Lex's did. With his computer skills and ready cash from the castle, he could give himself a new identity - a degree, even. The money - the cars - would be missed, but he knew how to make money as well as he knew how to make MDMA or di-ammonium phosphate. He could probably even afford to leave Clark alive. Clark wouldn't ever be ruthless enough to take his own life back.

He could see through walls; he could open any lock; he could defeat any bodyguard.

He could lose Clark forever.

He forced himself to descend.

Clark was waiting, had been watching the whole time. "It's okay, you know," he said as Lex approached.

"What is?"

"To think about not reversing this."

Mother of God. "What exactly is okay about it? You can't - I'm dangerous. To you. To - people."

"It's okay, because you made the right decision." Clark moved so that they were standing only inches from one another. "It's not that admirable not to do something you don't want to do anyway."

"What did I do to deserve you?" he asked helplessly.

Clark put his hands on Lex's shoulders and tugged them closer, until Lex's forehead was pressed against Clark's, both of them looking down. "I'm pretty sure you pissed someone important off," he said, his voice raw and tender.

Lex brought his hands up to cradle that fragile human skull, containing the strongest person he'd ever met. "Don't ever say that. I - couldn't have a better friend. You make me want to be worthy of your friendship."

He thought Clark understood, from the way he blinked and his eyes shimmered in the indirect lighting.

"I thought about it too," Clark said. "Not to have to be so careful all the time." His arms went around Lex and squeezed. He could tell that Clark was straining hard, but it registered only as slight pressure. "To hug someone, to hang on tight, like I'll never let go. I'm afraid. I'm afraid that there's nothing strong enough to stop me."

Lex laughed, a choked sound that echoed oddly off the metal surfaces in the lab. "Funny, I used to be afraid of that, until I met you."

"But you could. Stop me. Like with the red meteor rock, when I wanted to run away to Metropolis. You'll always be there to stop me, right?"

Lex bent his head, leaning against Clark's shoulder. "Yes, Clark. Always." At least, it was pretty to think so. "We should get started."

He showed Clark the generator he'd rigged, the Faraday cages designed to prevent electricity from going where it wasn't wanted, the lead box containing meteor rocks that would open at the press of a button, and the wires set up for the two of them to grasp. Clark nodded at the appropriate points and looked optimistic. After all, he'd been through it before, sort of.

"Clark," he said, watching his body step into its appointed cage, "if anything goes wrong -"

But Clark was shaking his head. "Nothing's going to go wrong," he said, with almost as much smooth persuasiveness as Lex could ordinarily muster.

He didn't argue. There was nothing he could say at this point, and Clark, he hoped, would find out what was in his will soon enough if he'd gotten the setup wrong.

Lex ran his hand through his hair one last time, to fix the tactile memory in his mind, and got into his cage. If we both die, he thought, the Inquisitor's going to insist that this was some sort of demented sex thing. And it wouldn't be entirely wrong.

"Here we go," he said, and pressed the button that would begin the process. He'd left thirty seconds for them to grab the wires, or panic and escape. They seemed to tick off like hours, and he was reasonably certain that wasn't the fault of Clark's ability to speed up until the rest of the world looked as if it was stuck in taffy.

5... 4... 3... 2... 1.

The lead box opened and the current began to flow. Lex had a moment to wonder whether this was a good idea before the shock hit him, and his hands clenched involuntarily around the wires, irrevocably committed.

The world went white and green.

Clark's neck hurt. He blinked himself awake, and realized that he was slumped against the metal cage.

He reached out to grab the metal mesh so he could stand.

His hands were his own.

"Lex?" he called out, unhooking the door and stepping down. "Lex?"

Lex was still and small on the floor of his cage. Clark zipped over, wrenched the door off, and picked him up. "Lex?" His skin was so pale, the blue veins standing out as if the blood were trying to escape. He breathed, shallowly, and Clark relaxed a bit.

He looked around for a place to put Lex, and saw a long metal table in one corner that was free of instruments and chemicals. Carrying his again-fragile burden with the care he would have used on a bird with a broken wing, he went to the table and laid Lex down, balling up his overshirt to cushion Lex's head. He pulled up a stool and took Lex's hand, taking comfort in the fluttering of Lex's pulse beneath his fingers.

Should he call for a doctor? What would he say? He should have demanded that Lex give him the number for his friend Toby, at least. Though a guy who got paid by way of brown paper bags was not his first choice of caregiver for Lex.

Clark decided to wait for an hour, and if Lex weren't up by then, he'd take Lex upstairs, call the hospital, and say Lex had gotten an electric shock. They probably wouldn't do anything dangerous to treat him. Still, he had visions of crash carts out of `E.R.' He didn't want anyone opening Lex's chest to massage his heart.

Lex was a fighter, and he had meteoric healing on his side. Clark rubbed his thumb along the back of Lex's hand, wishing he were warmer. Then he realized that he could warm Lex up.

Climbing on the table was awkward, but then Lex wasn't awake to see him, and the reassurance of wrapping himself around Lex was more than worth it. Maybe he could have supersped upstairs for a blanket without endangering Lex, but this was more fun.

Clark didn't realize he'd slept until Lex shook him awake. "Clark!" he said, soft but insistent, and Clark opened his eyes to find Lex staring at him from inches away. Somehow, Lex had twisted so that he was mostly on top of Clark.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey." Lex smiled back. "You're a sight for sore eyes."

He grinned, and realized that it was almost like being back on the riverbank, pressed together after yet another near-death experience. Lex's eyes dropped to his mouth, and it was only a little distance to cross before they were kissing, everything right this time, running his tongue across Lex's scar. The texture was different from what it had felt like when he was on the other side.

They began slowly, meeting each other for the first time. But soon enough, Lex was pressing his shoulders back against the table, as if he could be held down, and he was running his hands down Lex's back, and up again under his shirt. Lex's skin was as creamy-smooth as his mom's frosting, and he wanted a taste.

When he slid his hands around to Lex's chest, Lex groaned into his mouth, and when he pressed his thumbs against Lex's nipples, Lex bit down on his tongue, hard. Clark tried to unbutton Lex's shirt, but he was too excited and ripped half the buttons off.

"Sorry," he gasped, flushing with embarrassment.

"Yeah, because having my clothes torn off is such a turn-off," Lex said huskily and moved his mouth to Clark's throat. He didn't resist as Clark pushed the shirt from his shoulders, but he didn't exactly assist either, so Clark had to run his hands down the length of Lex's arms, pushing the shirt as he went. He was so hard; his hips were rocking against Lex, who was thrusting back with all his strength.

So Lex liked having his clothes torn off? He could deal with that. Putting his hands at Lex's hips, he grabbed the sides of Lex's pants and belt and pulled. There was a screech - the belt buckle, he thought - and then Lex's skin was bared, pressed hot against him where his T-shirt had ridden up.

"Oh god," Lex said and stiffened, fisting his hands by Clark's shoulders. "I have to - let me -" He reached down and opened Clark's jeans one-handed, thrusting his hand where it was most wanted.

Clark had never seen Lex unable to finish a sentence before. It was a good look.


The voice was so out of place that he almost didn't understand it.

Then he understood all too well.

"Clark?" The call came again, from high on the stairs. His dad couldn't see them yet, but he was on his way down.

"Wha -?" Lex began, and Clark put a finger against his lips.

"It's my dad!" he said into Lex's ear.

Only at Lex's look of stunned horror did the magnitude of the situation become apparent. He was lying on a table in Lex's secret underground lab. A lab, by the way, with cages big enough for people in it.

And he was making out with a guy, not just any guy, but his dad's second least favorite guy in the world.

Somehow he didn't think that `Lex wouldn't hurt me, because he wants to have sex with me' would go over all that well. He'd be lucky if his dad didn't have a stroke on the spot. Or go home, get his shotgun, shoot Lex and then have a stroke.

Oh, and also, Lex didn't have any pants. Not any more.

"Hide," he ordered, speaking as softly as his freaked-out condition allowed. He jumped out from under Lex, fixed his jeans (his hard-on a distant memory by this point) and hurried towards the stairs.

"Dad?" he called back, taking the bottom steps two at a time. He had to stop a third of the way up to avoid crashing into his father.

"Clark? Do you know what time it is?"

"Uhh ... no?"

"It's seven-thirty. You were supposed to be home three hours ago."

"Oops?" No, not enough. "I'm sorry. I lost track of time."

"What have you been doing?" His dad, whose paternal instincts were obviously going off like fireworks, stepped down further, forcing Clark backwards.

"Umm ..." Blank. Mind as empty as scratch paper. He nearly stumbled as he came off of the stairway.

"I was helping Clark with his chemistry," Lex said from deeper in the room. "I'm sorry; I didn't realize he had to be home."

His dad snorted and stalked towards Lex, brushing past Clark, who followed close behind him.

Lex was standing behind the table. It was obvious to Clark that his shirt wasn't tucked in, because there was nothing to tuck it into, but maybe his dad wouldn't notice. Also, maybe he wouldn't notice that the bottom half of the shirt was held together by force of Lexian will rather than actual buttons. Good thing Lex's will was one strong bastard.

"Clark has responsibilities," his dad lectured Lex. "He can't be going off whenever he wants."

Lex nodded, looking grave and remorseful. "I apologize, Mr. Kent. I should have kept my eye on the time."

His dad paused, looking for words Lex hadn't already said. "Well - don't let it happen again."

Lex, displaying better-than-usual dad-sensitivity - or maybe just properly motivated, for once - wisely said nothing.

"Come on, Clark," his father said, turning back towards the stairs.

He was at the top of the steps before he realized that something important had been left undone, and called out an explanation about a missing book to his father before he hurried back down.

Lex was standing in front of the switching machine, brushing his fingers across the lead box. He didn't seem at all concerned that he was wearing only socks and an untucked dress shirt and, sadly, there was no indecent exposure because of its long tails.

"Lex," he said, and Lex spun around, looking guilty. "I didn't say goodbye."

"You don't need to," Lex said. Clark recognized the look on his face: Lex was uncertain, and afraid to lose. He wouldn't push. He might even pull away, to make sure Clark didn't do it first.

"I'll come over after dinner," he suggested. "So you can help me with ... chemistry."

Lex's mouth quirked up on one side. "Careful, Clark. Someone might sense a double entendre."

He moved to stand right next to Lex, close enough to put his arms loosely around Lex's waist and tug. Lex's mouth opened obediently under his, and then Lex took over the kiss with a near-viciousness that Clark thought was only partly to reassure himself that Clark really was invulnerable.

When they separated, Clark was panting, but Lex was breathing loudly too. "I was going for single entendre," he said, and Lex was surprised into an acknowledging nod.

Grabbing a random book and zipping back to the stairs, he turned for one last look and caught Lex with two fingers pressed to his lips, smiling. As if he were tasting the memory of Clark. Savoring him.

Clark shivered in pleasant anticipation and went to find his dad.


Lex twisted against the wooden post to which he'd been handcuffed and listened for the sound of the timer ticking down. He couldn't see the digital display, which he'd first thought was a failure of torment on the part of his captor but had quickly decided was an exquisite source of terror. The explosives were set to go off sometime in the next three minutes, he thought, sending him and the entire abandoned Smallville Brewery to the great recycling bin in the sky.

Just another Tuesday in Smallville.

There was a whoosh! and Clark appeared in front of him.

"Cutting it close, aren't we?"

"Dogs," Clark explained. Lex noted the ragged holes in his jeans and nodded his understanding.

Without further ado, Clark ripped through the cuffs holding Lex to the post and sped them both out just as the bomb in the basement went off. They ended up fifty feet outside the building, watching as it imploded with a flurry of cracks, bangs and groans.

Chloe spotted them and ran up. "You got out!" she said, almost as if it were an accusation.

"Just in time, it appears," Lex acknowledged, hoping he looked as calm as he sounded.

"Hey," Chloe said as she noticed the cuffs still around Lex's wrists. "The chain on those handcuffs looks ripped apart. How'd you get out?" Her sharp eyes searched Lex's face.

"Metal fatigue, I expect," Lex said easily.

Off to the side, he could see Clark trying not to smile.

"Metal fatigue?" Chloe repeated.

"Well, how else do you explain it? Do you think I turned into the Hulk and in my rage ripped through the cuffs?"

Chloe sighed. "No. I guess not." It was a credit to her that, despite being a long-time Smallville resident, she'd actually taken a moment to think about it. "But you've got the luck of an acre of four-leaf clovers, Mr. Luthor."

"Oh, I'm a very lucky man," he said, just to watch Clark blush.

She hurried off, doubtless to interview the police officers who'd just finished arresting old Mrs. Ringle.

"'Metal fatigue'?" Clark asked, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and leading him away from the scene. "Could you come up with a lamer excuse?"

"Old times' sake, Clark."

Clark mock-frowned and stopped long enough to snap the cuffs off of Lex's wrists. Lex stopped him from dropping the remains on the ground, instead putting the half-circles into his pocket for later disposal in one of the labs.

"I should make you a laminated card," Lex mused as they walked. "'Barely plausible excuses for being where I shouldn't be and doing what I shouldn't be able to do.'" People were hurrying past them, headed to rubberneck at Smallville's latest mini-disaster. "Number one: I just had a bad feeling. Number two: Metal fatigue. Number three: You must have been confused by all the commotion. Number four -"

He stopped when Clark poked him, gently. "This from the master planner who managed to get kidnapped, again, by a little old lady."

"A little old lady with a big new gun," Lex protested. "And five meteorite-mutant Doberman pinschers."

"Speaking of lame excuses ..." Clark teased.

"And I know rescuing me gets you hot."

"I'm seventeen. Looking at roads you've driven on gets me hot."

Lex swallowed his comment about Lana Lang, because it would have been tacky to gloat. And they were at the car, which meant that he was about to get the opportunity to test Clark's assertion. "Well, let's get back to the castle, and you can show me all about your indefatigable metal."

He knew Clark had gotten the innuendo when his ears turned red.

"Or we could get started now," he said, sliding into the driver's seat.

"I've told you before and I'll tell you again, no blowjobs while driving."

"Why not? If anything happens, you're indestructible, and on my part, what a way to go."

"You," Clark said, putting his hand high on Lex's thigh, "are not going anywhere. Plus, this is a nice car. I like this car."

It was a valid objection. Smallville was already death row for anything on four wheels, and there was no use adding to the wreckage.

They were most of the way back to the castle before he found it necessary to speak again.

"What did you do with the dogs, anyway?"

"You know my big lead box-shaped birthday present? Big chunk of raw steak and they went in like puppies. Then I shut the door. You might want to get it out of Mrs. Ringle's back forty, though."

Lex made a mental note to have that done, and the dogs taken to the Metropolis labs, far from Clark. "Do you think I should have more boxes made? So you could have a choice of sizes next time?"

Clark patted his thigh. "That would be sweet of you. The dogs are packed kind of tight in this one."

"Sweet?" he asked, offended. "I'll have you know that this is purely a matter of ensuring my sexual pleasure."

At Clark's snigger, he intensified the offended look. "I don't have the time to train somebody new. So I'm protecting my investment."

They pulled up to the castle entrance, and Lex stopped the engine.

"Don't be long," Clark warned him. "Dad's really serious about his barbeque, and we need time to heat up the grill."

Lex grinned the grin he knew made Clark nervous. "Don't worry. I just have to grab the cooler."

"Light one of the briquets for me, Clark," Lex said. "Just one." Clark looked, to make sure his parents weren't watching too closely, and focused until one black pellet glowed red.

"Are you sure it'll heat up fast enough?" he asked dubiously. "I could -"

"I told you I'd take care of it," Lex said, and he shut up. Lex could get awfully pissy if the validity of his sacred word was questioned. "Now go help your mother."

Clark backed away as Lex went for the cooler they'd carried out from the car. He didn't know what was in it -- he hadn't X-rayed it, on the theory that he'd be able to claim he didn't know anything about it if it turned into another of Lex's little adventures. He swore, Lex did half this stuff to keep him in rescuing trim.

He went over to where his mom was slicing vegetables, and took the knife from her. His eyes were still on Lex, who'd retrieved a covered bucket from the cooler and what looked like a metal tripod.

"Clark, what is Lex doing?" His father had brought a tray of hamburger patties out to the table, and he didn't look happy. "That grill needs to be -"

Meanwhile, the tripod had turned into some kind of telescoping pincers that Lex attached to the bucket, then backed away, raising the now-uncovered bucket over the grill.

He tipped the bucket and something white poured out over the grill.

The fireball enveloped the grill in under a second; Clark had Lex fifty feet away a tenth of a second after that.

"--warmed up," he could hear his father saying, off in the distance.

Lex smirked at him as he gaped. Over Lex's shoulder, Clark could see that the fireball was gone.

But that was a distraction. "What the heck was that?" he asked, while his dad demanded to know much the same thing (with slightly bluer language).

"Liquid oxygen," Lex said as if it ought to have been obvious. "Wasn't it great?" He trotted back towards the grill, and Clark hurried to follow him.

His parents were staring at Lex, half in horrified wonder and half in fear that he'd noticed Clark's rather speedy rescue.

"See," Lex said proudly, "it's the right temperature, and the blast of heat also cleaned off the old, caked-on residue." Clark refocused so that he could see in the infrared, and Lex was right about the temperature. Of course.

His dad joined them. "Lex -" he said, momentarily at a loss for other words. Clark really, really didn't want to participate in the ensuing discussion. Also, he thought that both of them tended to puff up their chests and show off more when they thought he was paying attention. So he headed back to his mom and returned to slicing tomatoes.

By the time he was on the onions, the volume of the conversation had dropped substantially. His dad was looking interested despite himself, and Lex was saying something about turbocharging, and gesturing toward the barn, where his dad's motorcycle was parked.

"I think I might have been happier when your father and Lex didn't get along," his mom said, following their gazes.

Privately, Clark thought that, if they got along any better, it would be pistols at dawn, but he kept that opinion to himself.

"He's so happy, Mom," he said, as if that were some kind of explanation.

"Yes, he is," she said. But she wasn't looking at Lex.


Notes: Every time the TWoP "24" recapper mentions DaddyStopTouchingMe, I think of Lionel. He is the Magnificent Bastard, beyond cavil, but I wouldn't mind seeing him occasionally go by the other nickname. Unidentified poetry: CS Lewis, "The Meteorite": "Nor is it strange these wanderers/Find in her lap their fitting place,/For every particle that's hers/Came at the first from outer space." Thanks to M.E. Curtin, Doctor Science, and Jaydn Michelle for swift and helpful beta.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to RivkaT

Also, why not join Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?


Level Three Records Room