Somewhere I Have Never Traveled

by jenn



Author Notes: I raided Sascha at tentative.net for the summary, since God knows, I suck at them. Rana for the title, from the ee cummings poem. Ann for the double beta of both stories, Agnes for finishing what she could on this one. And the LJ community for walking me through it very, very patiently. Thank you.

Archiving: SSA, Level_Three

Disclaimer: Don't own anyone except Cassius, Daniel, and Charity.

Feedback: Oh yes.


The Fortress hadn't given him any real warning about the side effects.

He's been kneeling by the toilet for what feels like forever, shocked at the bile-burn in the back of his throat, the smell of it. His mouth feels raw, but there's no really good basis for comparison, vague memories of nausea and broken ribs from years and years ago that don't mesh at all with this kind of pain.

This is nothing like Kryptonite poisoning.

Collapsing on the cool tile of his bathroom floor, Clark shuts his eyes, letting the chill settle into every bone through denim and decade-old flannel. It's brand new and familiar like a dream can be, but more real, somehow, like life's been a long fantasy and this is the reality. Dirty, filthy taste coating his mouth, Jesus, this he couldn't have anticipated, and he struggles to his knees for his toothbrush. His stomach hates sudden moves, though, and he's collapsing again, barely noticing the sharp thud of his head hitting the tile again.

Shock, his mind offers up with surprise. You didn't expect something like this?

Obviously not, and he scrabbles feebly at the floor, the small rug brushing the tips of his fingers, a slice of pain following so bright that he gasps. Lifting his hand, he stares at the glass that's buried in his flesh. Broken glass, from the water he was carrying when he stumbled, though he can barely think through the twists in his stomach,

Blinking, he watches blood lazily trace a line down his finger, oozing over the first knuckle and pooling in the web of skin at the base of his fingers. Colder as it moves, almost icy as it reaches his palm, tracing a lifeline that might have actual significance now.

Human, his mind offers, and he can't do anything but agree. This is human. Belief's an imperative now. He doesn't have a choice.

Even the relief is sublimated under the spasms wracking every muscle. His entire body's screaming with the change, and something sharp ripples through him, eyes rolling back in his head as his body shudders, toes to the top of his head.

No, the Fortress hadn't covered this at all. Probably didn't know. He's the first and last of his kind--or not anymore, and that chokes out a broken laugh that hurts his throat and his ears. It doesn't sound that amused.

Rolling onto his stomach, he shuts his eyes briefly. Focus. Irony would be dying now of blood loss from a fucking cut finger. Or knocking himself out on the edge of the toilet. Opening his eyes again, he stretches both arms, trying to steady shaky hands, just enough to pull it free. It breaks, another shock of bright pain, and there are tears forming behind his eyes.

Oh God, he's crying for a cut finger. Giggling threatens to erupt before the next shock of pain, real pain. Some kind of fucking hero.

He should call Lois. Get her here. She knew what he was planning, knew--understood. She'd know what to do, all these things he doesn't. He doesn't even have bandaids for God's sake, no antibiotic, he's never needed it. Blood is splashing vividly on the floor, pooling bright red and accusatory.

Oh yeah, he really thought this through.

And letting Lois see him like this when she's seen Superman--Clark shakes the thought aside and rolls on his side when his stomach heaves again. Bile this time, thickly yellow-green on the floor, but he can almost ignore the burn of it for his finger.

Beneath his cheek, the tile's so cool he might never get up again.

The next spasm is completely unexpected, and Clark's body curls up, mouth opening on no air and no way to get it. Panic takes over--what do you do, he thinks, remember, you saved humans all the time. Save yourself. He'd wondered why they fought him sometimes.

So cold, though. And he's never been that before, and it's distracting, soothing, something to explore. Forcing every muscle to relax into the shudders, he watches his own blood smear the floor. He can take this. It's what he chooses. God, it's what he wants.

His eyes are almost closed when something warm slides under his head, shoulders leaving the floor to brace against something warm and firm. Thick, harsh cloth slips against his cheek, and he rubs against it instinctively, trying to focus his eyes off blood, but the too-fast movement of his head just brings the nausea back and vision's off. Instantly, cool hands are on his face, turning it sideways, and he's vomiting onto the floor, raw bile flecked with blood.

That--can't be good.

"Ssh." Fingers smoothing over his face, and Clark tries to recognize the voice. "You're a fucking moron."

Oh.

"Lex."

He thinks he can hear a snicker, or a sigh. You never know with Lex. Lex, who's relentless by nature and bored by choice, levering Clark up until he's sprawled in some kind of sitting arrangement, and something wet and soft streaks his face. Clark realizes he's been sweating. When the cloth flashes too close to his eyes, he sees blood.

"What--" Words are hard to form; his mouth feels like it's stuffed with cotton and his tongue's far too big to try anything like English. Kryptonian either, and he feels a grin spread his lips briefly. This will be funny one day. In the future. Far, far in the future.

"Shut up." He's braced against a warm, strong body, and it's Lex, though logic says he's hallucinating and dying on his bathroom floor alone in this ultimate kind of superhuman irony. Still, instinct is instinct, and he'd know Lex on his deathbed. Beneath the stench of vomit and blood and God knows what else, the sharp masculine cut of scent, metal-edged and frighteningly vivid, is too familiar. It's Lex.

His night could get worse, Clark reflects when another spasm shakes him and strong hands brace his shoulders, keeping him from shaking himself apart. His hand's taken and lifted, sharp pain when Lex removes the glass, wrapping it in what feels like toilet paper, layer upon layer. Letting his head roll back, Clark looks up.

"It's been awhile." He can't help smirking.

"Not long enough." Under Clark's hand is a warm thigh, wool covered and solid, easy to brace himself on. Grounding, too, and his fingers like the feeling of the cloth a little too much for comfort. Lex's arm around his chest is almost too-tight, but Clark doesn't care. It's enough that there's something to hold on to, grip with the next spasm that rips up his body like he's being cut open inside and out. "I assume this is reaction to whatever the fuck you did up in the Fortress?"

"Yeah." Clark chokes out a laugh. "Should have stayed--there. With the medical facilities." Can't get back now. Frankly, he's not even clear on how he got back to Metropolis, since obviously he didn't fly on his own. There are vague memories of a private plane and a man that didn't speak much English but watched him a lot. Okay. "You bought my pilot."

"Michael was very disappointed you weren't carrying something interesting like heroin or weapons of mass destruction. A let-down for the man, I assure you." Lex shifts a little--motion isn't good, but Lex is about as capable of stillness as Lois is of silence. Strong arms reposition themselves under his arms, and Lex pulls them both up effortlessly.

Lex is really too strong to be completely human. Clark wants to laugh at the thought that Lex is now the most alien in the room. In a manner of speaking.

For some reason, he doesn't shake too much on his way to the narrow bed in the corner of his bedroom, and it's warm and soft under his back. Lex lowers him down as gently as a child, pulling the blankets up, then turning Clark on his side just as the next spasm hits--how can he still be throwing up, there's nothing left in his stomach.

"I can't believe you didn't ask a few more questions before you did it," Lex says from somewhere far away. The next country, perhaps. He's lightheaded. Obviously.

"I can't believe that the Fortress considers this 'consequences' and didn't go into detail." Clark sucks in a foul-tasting breath. "I thought it meant for the world."

"You might have guessed that the transition from alien to human might be a little jarring." Lex's voice is so dry it almost grates, but the washcloth is back, sliding over his mouth. Clark wants to lick it, get rid of the taste.

"Little jarring?" Clark opens his eyes--blurred vision. What if he needs glasses now for real? That will suck. A lot. "I don't--why are you here?"

He can almost hear the smile in Lex's voice, and the finger in his hair are gentle now, stroking back. "I have you watched from time to time." More gentle stroking, fingers lacing through his hair. It feels wet, curling around Lex's fingers like it's trying to hold on.

Clark feels the completely inappropriate laugh try to break out from between his lips. "How--"

"I've studied Kryptonite for years, Clark." That answers--well, absolutely nothing. The washcloth is back, and Clark lets himself lean into that, loving the feel of the rough, nubby material cleaning, soothing. "You're engaged to Miss Lane. I put two and two together."

Oh. Not exactly two and two, except in Lexworld, where weird yet strangely right conclusions could be leaped to without anything as irrelevant as actual evidence. But it's easier just to nod, and the bed shifts when Lex reaches for the phone. Distantly, Clark hears Lex dialing a number.

"Chloe. Shut up." A pause. "Do you want to hear this or not?" Another pause. "Tell Lois he's fine. Yes, like she'd believe me." Another pause, longer, and Clark tries sight again. Marginally clearer. Black wool thigh near his chest, inches from his fingers. He follows the line of material, up to a crisp white shirt. Lex must have discarded jacket and coat somewhere. The sleeves are rolled up. Very Lex. Wouldn't want to get too dirty. "No, you both can stay right where you are." Another pause. "Then you should have been here first. Tell Lois to be here in the morning. He should be fine by then. Mercy and Hope would love a chance to chat, sweetheart, so feel free to pass that along. Goodbye."

Lex can't even be solicitous without being threatening. But--Clark doesn't want to see Chloe. Or Lois. Not like this. Macho-guy thing--frankly, Lex seeing it sucks so much it hurts, but that's unavoidable now. Lois? Unacceptable in every way. He shivers at the thought, and instantly, warm hands stroke over his back, tucking the blanket in around him.

"Why--"

"War's over."

He'd once heard speculation that Lex was insane. It's almost believable, and Clark finally finds the focus to look into Lex's face. Usual Lex, totally unreadable, except for the smirk and the familiar tilt of his head.

"You're fucking kidding."

"Your mother would wash your mouth out with soap if she heard that. Drink this." A bottle magically appears and Lex hand slides under his head, levering it up enough to reach the lip. It doesn't taste like water, faintly metal-edged, but that could be the blood and bile slicking Clark's tongue. It goes down a lot more easily than anything's come up, though, and Clark shuts his eyes at it hits his stomach, expecting the cramps....

...that never happen.

Well, that's unexpected.

"How did you--"

"You never did listen well," Lex remarks. "Take another drink before you try to talk." The bottle's back in place, but Clark's not fighting it. Thirstily, Clark gulps, but in an act of pure evil, Lex pulls the bottle back. "Not too much. This will help."

Clark lays back on the pillows. There's a fine sheen of sweat crawling over his skin--uncomfortably slick, and he can feel it popping up in places that have never sweat before. Under the blankets seems uncomfortably hot, and Clark tries to shrug them off. A hand on his chest stops him instantly; Clark blinks as he realizes he can't fight it off.

And Lex is smiling like he just got handed the entirety of Europe for his personal demesne.

"Human, Clark. Like I'm not." The pressure increases--it's a shock, and Clark blinks, reaching up to close his fingers weakly around the delicate looking wrist. Instantly, and pretty damn surprisingly, Lex backs off, hand now simply resting on his sweat-soaked shirt before it's joined by the second, busily unbuttoning the ruined material. Clark thinks about protesting, but it smells.

And moving would involve far too much effort. Much easier to lay here and let Lex strip him down to his boxers, clothes discarded, then a few long minutes on the other side of the room with the cellphone.

When their eyes meet, Lex holds the gaze for seconds too long before crossing the room, pressing his palm to the tiny mouthpiece.

"Lois wants to talk to you. She's downstairs." Lex sits down, extending the phone until it's pressed to Clark's ear. He can hear her cursing from inches away and it brings a smile to his face, carefully moving until he can hear her clearly.

"Lois?" His voice sounds--really bad.

The steady stream of invective ends like a radio dial being turned. "Clark?" Breathless relief fills the single syllable. "Clark, oh God, are you--what--"

"I'm fine." Glancing up, he sees Lex studying the far wall as though it's covered with the personal sayings of Alexander the Great. Almost enough to make him laugh. "Really, Lois. I'm okay. Just--wiped."

"What the fuck is Luthor doing there?"

The question of the ages. "Apparently making sure I survive the experience. Everything--everything's okay, I swear. Some sleep and I think I'll be okay."

She doesn't like it. Vocally doesn't like it. More than one time. Clark can't keep up and doesn't even try, just enjoys the steady rhythm of her voice and how she can make even fuck sound sweet and somehow tender.

The phone's gently removed from his ear.

"He's falling asleep," Clark hears Lex say, amusement rich in his voice. Clark doesn't bother opening his eyes. "Go home. He's yours tomorrow."

That sounds--oh, just a little bizarre. Clark shakes the thought away, letting the voices drift. The spasms in his stomach are reducing by the moment to faint cramps, like something is gently pushing against the surface of his stomach. Curling onto his side, he feels Lex stand up, walking to the door, and that's Mercy's voice, though Clark can't make out the words.

The spasms grow--Clark shudders at the sudden chill, burrowing under the covers, voices becoming nothing but an indistinct, almost annoying drone of sound. Teeth suddenly clattering together, God, this is cold, this is how people feel in Kansas winters, he never knew, never guessed it felt like this. The covers don't seem to hold any heat at all, seem to suck it from him, and he pulls his knees to his chest, trying to find--something. Warmth. Anything.

"Clark. Shit." The door closes far too loudly, and then too-hard footsteps. The mattress dips and Lex's hand brushes his face. God, so hot. Wonderful, vibrant heat that he can't help moving into, making an embarrassing sound low in his throat.

He's miles out of shame. Hell, he's a few thousand miles out of complete sanity as well. Who the hell tests the powers of gold kryptonite on their fucking body without further research?

"Clark. It's okay. Hold on." Blankets aren't doing anything, no matter how close Lex tucks them in, and Clark tries to lock his jaw enough to stop the constant clatter of enamel. "You know, research would have been smart, Clark."

"Heh." What an idea.

"This didn't come up during..." Lex cuts himself off. "Not that I ever had the actual substance, but extrapolation..." He drifts off into possible thought, and Clark slits his eyes open enough to see Lex frowning. "You're so fucking stupid."

"Worth it." Mumbled between clenched teeth. Human.

"She'd better be." The hand's back, and Clark wants to grab it, pull it under the covers and curl all around it. The bed shifts again, comforters drawn aside--Clark almost protests before he gets it.

Big, warm, hot body, and screw the war, fuck the enemy thing, Lex is like a space heater and Clark doesn't even hesitate. He rolls over and curls up as close as he can, draping a leg across beautifully warm wool, an arm over a silk-clad chest, and burrows his face into a silky shoulder.

Lex makes an unclassifiable sound. In Smallville, an adolescent Clark might have called it a laugh.


He wakes up to the smell of coffee, Lois, and some truly sickening memories. Light from the window cuts across his eyes when he sits up--instant karma for something he must have done wrong in a past life, because damn, that hurts.

"Lois, window--" he doesn't, can't open his eyes to see, but her heels make sharp sounds as they cross the room, and he listens as the blinds are closed and the curtains dropped down. More heel clicks, then the bed dips with her slight weight, and he opens his eyes as she hands him a bottle.

"You look like shit, Smallville."

Clark can't help but grin. She doesn't look much better. Dark hair in an uncertain chignon, smudges under her eyes, smeared make-up, but her clothes are Metropolis dinner theatre from last night and she's still wearing heels and stockings. The faint smells of stale smoke, wine, and coffee drift around Clark, but the very idea of coffee makes his stomach turn over.

Taking a drink, Clark recognizes the mix.

"Okay, that wasn't an extended hallucination." His finger aches and he feels--different. The same. Strange. No X-ray, even when he squints. His vision isn't twenty-twenty anymore.

That really does suck. He'll need glasses.

"No, it wasn't, kiddo." A gentle hand belies the sharp edge of her voice, stroking across his forehead, pushing damp hair aside. "God, you--"

He lifts his hand, staring at the neatly bandaged finger. Lex sent out for things at some point. The idea of Hope carrying medical supplies is far too mindbending to process.

"Human," he whispers, staring at the bandage. He think he can feel his pulse beneath the clean white gauze covering, the hard flow of blood, coagulating, forming a scab for healing-- "Lois--"

"Yeah." Her voice is uncharacteristically gentle, followed by another long, tender stroke. "I'm--" Her voice breaks briefly, and Clark turns his gaze, meeting dark eyes that stare straight into him. "I'm happy for you, Clark."

"Do you understand?" he whispers, and her fingers curve down his cheek, resting briefly on his shoulder. Elegant fingers with manicured nails, and he covers them with his. She takes a deep breath, letting it out, brow furrowed in thought.

"Maybe." The shrug is pure Lois. "Sometimes. A little?" She shakes her head, pulling away and reaching for the bottle. "Luthor left a list of what to give you for the next couple of days, but he said the worst is over."

"God." Worst hadn't been the vomiting--Clark has vague memories of later bathroom moments even less attractive. "I should have known. He wouldn't miss the chance to see the transition from alien to human for the world."

Lois chuckles and pulls the covers around him, tucking him in. "I'm sure he took extensive notes. Be a good boy and stay in bed. Chloe's bringing my clothes and my laptop, and I already called us both in to the office. Perry's going to kill us, you know."

"You're staying here?"

The twinkle in her eyes makes him grin. "Like you know how to take care of yourself. Please." A slap on his thigh that--wow, that hurts, then she stands up, ignoring the creases in expensive silk and the vagaries of smudged mascara. She's still the most beautiful woman he's ever met. "Who told Luthor we were engaged?"

"I was going to ask you the same question." It makes Clark really wonder what the mail staff at The Planet does during downtime. Seriously. The gossip that comes out of there blows his mind. "Has Chloe said something?"

"Probably." She shrugs. "If you're not going to tell her the truth, Clark--"

"Which part? She just thinks I'm sick, right?"

Lois isn't like anyone else, something that still throws him when he thinks about it. She looks at him--sees him, he thinks, like no one else ever has.

"I think so." He watches her balance it out in her head, mentally replaying whatever recent conversation they'd had, looking for clues. "We'll worry about that later. Drink up."

Looking at the bottle, Clark takes another drink, wincing at the feel of the liquid sliding down the raw spots in his throat.

"Anything interesting happen while I was gone?"

Lois leans into the side of the bed, head tilted in thought.

"Yes. Chloe's got a new boyfriend, your mom called and asked where you were, and my mother sent me another email regarding my love life. In other words, nothing new to report." Her pause makes Clark look up--dark eyes are fixed on the floor. Her mouth twitches with a completely indefinable emotion. "What happened last night?"

"I was sick. I was--" When she looks up, the sparkle makes him choke. "You have a filthy mind."

"Mmm." Sitting at the foot of the bed, she draws a knee to her chest, giving him a long, extraordinarily knowing look. "Let me see if I can remember--oh yes. 'No, Lois, we just were in Smallville at the same time.' 'No Lois, we were just friends.' 'Lois, it was a long time ago and we haven't spoken in years.' 'Lois, we never had a relationship like that--'"

He's in hell.

"It's all true." Amazing, how good her memory is. Makes him curious if she was around Smallville during the meteor shower. That's got to be some kind of mutation.

"Uh huh. So you always snuggle with your nemesis on off-nights?" Oh God, she's enjoying this too much. Snuggle--

Jesus. "You--er, came up here?" Would Lex have let her up here when he was still....

She smiles sweetly. "Just in time to watch the very untouchable Mr. Luthor pry you off before he left."

Yes, this is hell.

Burying his head in the pillow, Clark tries to think of calming things. Like holes that open up under you when you're backed into a horrible, horrible corner of hell. The bed shifts nauseatingly, and then Lois is stretched out beside him, indifferent to what has to be a thousand dollar dress, head rested on one hand, and she's far, far too happy.

"Luthor Found In Flagrante Delicto With Daily Planet Reporter." It never stops amazing him how she can make her voice sound like a Daily Planet headline. "At six this morning, Alexander Luthor, CEO of LexCorp and current candidate for state senator, was observed leaving the premises of one Clark Jerome Kent, staff reporter for the Daily Planet. Sources report he spent the night."

"Bitch," he murmurs into cheap cotton.

"Mr. Luthor, currently in the middle of divorce proceedings, has no comment on his hitherto unknown relationship with reporter Clark Kent." One beautiful hand slides out into a fist, resting just below his mouth. "Any comments, Mr. Kent?"

"You're so going to hell. You know this, right?" In a just world, there would be payback. Something.

"Oh. This is new?" Her laugh is gorgeous--like cut crystal, tinkling around them both. "Really, Clark, you know I wouldn't be jealous--we could compare stories--"

"--you're so dead." How can he hide the body?

"After all, it's not like we often sleep with the same people--"

"Nothing happened!" Though snuggling, in Lexian terms, might be up there with a declaration of intent. Or something. He's trying not to think about that part.

"Are you naked, Kent?" And boom, blankets pulled back before Clark can remember how hands work. So embarrassing. So, so embarrassing. She looks at the boxers with a frown. "Well, that's disappointing."

Clark lifts his head enough to glare at her. "I hate you."

"I hate you, too." Smiling sweetly, she gets up on both elbows, obviously thinking about something else now. "Perry called before the dinner last night. Before you decided to change species, did you happen to check with the Fortress about meteor showers?"

"What?" He hadn't really done much but brood and then do it. The Fortress was like that.

Lois waves a hand, frowning in concentration. "Nothing important, really. Just a spectacular meteor shower is apparently coming up. NASA is still gauging the size--those new laser whatevers that LexCorp's been working on might be called into action if they're large enough." Turning her head, she must catch the expression on his face. "Oh, is it time for a Clark Kent Guilt Trip With Optional Brooding? Don't let me stop you."

Guilt, yeah. He hadn't even checked. Blinking, Clark rolls on his back, staring at the ceiling. Meteors.

"I didn't--"

"You know, humanity survived a long time before you were around and will be around whether or not you're in tights." The uncharacteristically gentle voice makes Clark blink. "Far be it from me to say Luthor has any redeeming qualities, but he's been fighting you for so long that he's upgraded the defensive capabilities of the planet in a really big way. NASA's not worried, and you shouldn't be either."

"I could have stopped it."

"And take away our light show? Drink." Reaching over him, she takes the bottle, forgotten against his hip, and shoves it into his hand. "You have to finish three of these, Luthor said."

The novelty of Lois using Lex as a reason is enough to make his eyebrows jump, but he takes a drink, feeling the faint cramps in his stomach settling again.

"Lois--"

The dark eyes fix on him with impossible strength.

"I was wrong, Clark," she says, slowly, like she's testing out the words. "I do understand."

"Can you?" Sometimes, he wonders if anyone can. His parents might and then again, they might not--but then, they're a little blind. They want him happy, that's all. Parents are like that. In the final balance, racking it up in his head, Clark's not sure anymore. Not that he was sure before, but--

"Completely? No. I never wore the tights." A thoughtful look creases her forehead before she sits up, crawling over him to land neat as a cat on the floor, heels and all. "But I can tell you this, Superman. I never wanted to, either."

Clark frowns at the name. "I'm not Superman anymore."

Lois cocks her head. "I didn't know a change in DNA changed the person inside the skin." Her pause hits him like a truck. She's really far too good at this. "Get some rest, Smallville. I'll make breakfast and download the NASA data for you to look over. You're the one with the family history in advanced astrophysics, after all." A flicker of her skirt, and she disappears out the door.

Of course, she can't leave it at that.

"By the way, before you nap, maybe you should see something."

Clark opens his eyes, frowning a little as she leans into the door.

"What?"

"Come here."

Oh, this is going to suck. Lois in playful mode was dangerous when he was invulnerable. Getting to his feet unsteadily, he's pleased to note that vomit does not appear instantly and the walls do not move. Much. It's a long, long walk across the room, but Lois doesn't move, and the smile stretches into a smirk that she has to have picked up from Lex.

Leaning into the doorway, Clark stares into his living room, blinking warily. Tulips, roses, sunflowers, things he can't even name anymore, a riot of colors and scents that hit him like a brick. Everywhere. Coffee table, beside the couch, on the couch, the floor, the dining room table, the kitchen--how can anyone walk in here? Slowly, he pushes himself fully upright, staring at the vases that litter the room, vaguely trying to bring it together.

Is this what an armistice feels like?

"I forgot," Lois says smoothly as she picks her way to the kitchen like she's walking a Metropolis ballroom, not a misstep in sight. "Your mom also asked why Luthor cleaned out her greenhouse. Any ideas, hotshot?"

He's going to kill Lois.

And Lex.


There's almost an entire week where Clark wonders if Lex has finally begun to deserve the title 'insane'.

Lois isn't helping, either.

First day back at work, there are flowers on the desk. Large, obvious, former-nemeses-don't-send-stuff-like-this flowers. Huge red roses, and yeah, Mom's querying email asking why on earth Lex was singlehandedly buying out Smallville's flower population hit him by the third day, when sunflowers made a shocking appearance on every inch of his desk.

By Thursday, Clark only sighs when he sees the orchids. Apparently, Smallville's tapped. Metropolis florists are now under siege.

"You know," Lois says thoughtfully, leaning down to take a sniff from the orchids, eyebrows raised, "he never sent me flowers."

"He sent tulips," Clark answers rebelliously, staring at the dizzying array of flora littering his desk. "You said he sent you tulips."

"That's how he confirmed I'd broken up with him." Head tilted, Lois leans into the desk, fingernails tapping an irregular rhythm on the wood. "You know the MO."

"Yep." Tulips are remnants of Victoria, because Lex has a truly, truly bizarre sense of humor. Pushing aside a solid crystal vase, Clark buries his head in his arms. "He's trying to drive me insane."

"I'd say he's doing the unheard-of and asking for a date." Oh yeah, she's enjoying this far, far too much. "Did you finish up that article for Perry?"

"On the city council? Done and done." Leaning back, Clark surveys his desk. "Lex doesn't ask for anything."

"It's like a funeral, isn't it?" she says brightly. Oh fuck you, Lois. "Except in reverse. Check your livefeed later on. NASA's doing a press conference on the meter shower. So far, ETA is ten days or so. The biggest fragment recorded is apparently the size of the old LuthorCorp headquarters, but there's talk about destroying it before it reaches Earth. The Justice League is making noises about going out to check on this itself."

Clark makes a noise that sounds just a little petulant. Okay, really petulant. He's a spoiled rotten brat that's being--being--being flirted with via flora. Semi-publicly. Lois is right and wrong--this isn't Lex asking for a date, per se. This is Lex laying fucking siege, even Clark knows intent when it comes in the form of flowers. Faintly, the elevator pings in the distance, reminding Clark he has two stories to at least pretend to work on and not obsess about the bizarrity of his love life.

Such as it is.

"Yeah, I got an email from Br--Batman." Lois looks interested at his almost-slip. She's going to figure it out. He pities Bruce the day she does.

"For Superman?"

"For Superman." One of a thousand times Clark is glad that his identity was kept secret even there. Don't ask, don't tell. Like the military, except, well--the Justice League really hadn't wanted to know. It was enough Superman showed up on time like a good little trooper to save the world. "He thinks Superman is--oh hell, who knows what Batman thinks?"

"About the latest latex polymers, I'd say." The tip of a pink tongue slinks out, resting lightly on her lip, eyes going distant and interested. Oh, he pities Bruce. Selena, too. Taking a breath, Clark shoves his chair back. "Who's covering the NASA press conference?"

"Chloe for The Inquisitor, Ralph for The Daily Planet. Jimmy went with, so if all else fails, we'll have good pictures." Glancing up, Lois freezes, and he watches the pretty red mouth drop briefly, then shiver, like she's fighting something else.

That--that is a smirk. Oh Jesus Christ.

Slowly turning, Clark watches what appears to be a grizzly bear on a dolly being worked across the floor. There's a bow around its neck.

"Lois," Clark says slowly, carefully, "tell me you just had a really bad date with someone who thinks you're a goddess or something."

"Not--recently." She sucks in a slow breath, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. "I think it's carrying a box. In its paws."

This isn't happening. People are gathering along the aisles to watch, work coming to a scary, grinding halt as everyone gathers to watch the most bizarre, and smallest, parade in history. The poor delivery guy is all shades of red.

Let Melinda have had a fight with her boyfriend. Let Jerry have had a fight with his boyfriend. Let someone, anyone, please, be expecting a six foot--that's a teddy bear with a purple bow.

"I'm going to kill him." Clark isn't sure how, but a variety of interesting possibilities emerge. He was Lex Luthor's best friend for four years, after all. He knows things.

"Kent!"

Lois spins in one of those perfect arcs of motion that even Superman couldn't have duplicated, and she does it on a slick floor wearing heels. Leaning into the desk, they both watch Perry descend from his office like the wrath of God, mouth twitching.

Is he anti-teddy bear?

"You have an interview at one." A paper is thrust onto the desk, vases crash, scattering orchids like ants making a run for cover, and Lois leaps gracefully from a spill of water that soaks the floor. Clark watches the slow, careful drip, because he knows Lex, Lex knows this office, and this is so very well timed Clark's teeth ache.

"Interview." Lois says it for him. She's not laughing, but only because Perry's here.

"Delivery for Mr. Clark Kent," the delivery boy says far too clearly, and Clark closes his eyes as Perry's eyes flicker up, taking in the bear in a single look. There's laughter, quickly muffled. This can't be happening to him.

"Kent?"

"Yes sir?" Perry doesn't have a sense of humor. At least, not one that exists on any plane Clark's ever heard of. There's a horrifying second where Clark thinks Perry will comment on the flora and stuffed fauna currently taking up important Planet space, but he only smiles.

It's as unnatural as anything Clark's ever heard of, and that includes Lois wearing off-the-rack.

"Good job getting an interview with Luthor. Don't be late."

And he walks away, leaving shock in his wake. Lois looks around the room, eyebrows raised, daring anyone to say a single word. Any word. Instantly, blissful noise results as people throw themselves into busy, important work, like there isn't a giant stuffed teddy bear beside Clark's desk and he didn't just get an interview with a man harder to get a comment out of than the average corpse.

With a trembling hand, Clark picks up the paper, wincing at a paper cut. Humanity is beginning to seriously, seriously suck.

A chair rolls over, and Lois is sitting neatly beside his desk, like it's any day in the world. Moving a vase aside and pushing a few stray, wet orchids from a comfortable place to put her elbow, the dark eyes fix on him.

"'Lois, you have a dirty mind. We never did anything.'" Her voice drops, low, husky, and very possibly what makes men, including Lex once upon a time, lay down so she can walk on them in her designer heels. It's sex. "Let me think here--right. 'Lois, we're enemies--'"

"We are!" Obviously, when Clark became human, a warp in space/time developed and Clark has been transplanted here. Where there exist six foot teddy bears, and where does someone shop for those anyway? "We really, really are."

Studying her nails, Lois sighs softly. "I suppose I should tell you--" And she stops. Oh God, she's a bitch.

"I'm going to call Chloe and tell her to set you up on another blind date," Clark snaps, and that is The Threat. The one that even Lois can't possibly ignore, because she remembers the last guy Chloe set her up with, and so does Clark. Bruce Wayne hadn't appealed in the least.

And that reminds him--she's going to kill him when she finds out the truth. Note that again. Now he's not invulnerable. He'll have to watch for her heels.

"You're playing dirty."

"I love you, too. Spill."

She shrugs beautifully, tossing back dark hair and giving him the most serious, studious reporter-look in creation. The kind that Clark knows from experience means terrible, terrible things. Terrible things.

"Just a rumor."

Clark grits his teeth and that makes his jaw ache. Oh damn, this day sucks.

"What. Is. The. Rumor."

The sparkle sends hope crashing to the ground. Though what he was hoping for, he really has no idea.

"From Luthor's personal secretary, reservations were made at 'Glass House'. Seven o'clock. And yes, those are chocolates." Standing up, she swishes by him in a cloud of Christian Dior and silk, removing the box from the bear. Turning around, she slowly pulls open the gold thread from the heavy black box, carefully removes the cover, and takes out one perfect chocolate. "Wanna know what name?"

It's strange, that a variety of possibilities are assaulting him and not one, he knows, will be the right answer. He watches with a sinking feeling as she bites into the chocolate, a long line of caramel slinking out like something in a really classy porn film. Chewing slowly, she watches him melt into his chair.

"Clark, does the name 'Warrior Angel' ring any bells?" She watches his expression with every indication of pure satisfaction. "Get your gear, Kent. I'll take you to lunch and drop you off at LexCorp Towers on the way back."

Staring helplessly, Clark looks for words that don't exist. Licking his lips, he forces something out. Anything at all.

"I need someone to pick me up."

Lois grins, indicating the bear with a flicker of red painted nails. Evil. Damn. "I think you're spoken for, Smallville. Let's get moving."


It's a form of completely unheard-of wrongness that Lex's secretary, Charity, who once shot at Superman with Kryptonite bullets, smiles at his arrival.

"Go right in, Mr. Kent," she says, picking up the phone with a cheery shake of a very blonde head, ringlets bouncing. He doesn't trust the ringlets. She's five two, weighs less than a hamster soaking wet, and can kill a man in under five seconds. Lex likes his people multi-talented. "He's expecting you."

Chinese food does not minister to a mind diseased, nor does Lois when she's in the mood to make his life a living hell. Chopsticks were a new phenomenon without super-reflexes--it turns out he really is naturally clumsy, Kryptonite or no-Kryptonite--and Clark, staring hard at the polished wooden door, wishes wistfully for heat vision again.

"Mr. Kent?"

Adjusting the now-necessary glasses, Clark considers snapping something out, but she's better with the witty comebacks than anyone but Lois. Taking a deep breath, he tightens his grip on his notepad and thinks calming thoughts. Of bear-massacres and shredded orchids, and Lex that one time that Superman held him over the edge of a building, the time with that stupid plot involving dolphins and bizarre uses of sonar, but it doesn't help much, because one, Superman hadn't dropped Lex, and two, Lex's suit didn't even look rumpled afterward.

Clark opens the door and steps onto fine mosaic tile--probably something Alexander the Great either owned, wanted to own, or considered owning at some point in his short reign over the known world. Lex would know this--probably by this time he's found some psychic to work full time channeling Alexander just for the purposes of giving Lex good advice or sharing world conquest jokes. That might explain a lot.

Fixing his gaze on the floor, Clark flips the door shut--it's still kind of new that full strength no longer means instant destruction, so really, he can slam doors now, and it's comforting to hear it hit with a beautiful loud clatter. Oh yes. Better. Petty as hell, but better.

"Clark." The voice is--pretty much Lex. Smooth like caramel, dark like chocolate, and if Lois had ever shown even the slightest hint of precognition or a real feel for his weak spots, he'd say she'd eaten that candy deliberately. "Come in, please."

"Mr. Luthor." Even to himself, he sounds petulant and just on this side of bratty. Well, good. "You asked for an interview." Oh hell, is he really going to play along? Looking up, he sees the smirk--vintage stuff, like fine wine, it only gets better with age, even if Lex hasn't aged to speak of. Maybe the feel of power's stronger, and right, the morals have seriously gone to hell, but--well. He's still Lex. Still lounging in two thousand dollar suits in indecently large leather chairs behind far too-wide desks, the very picture of relaxed and indulgent sophistication.

Oh yeah. Slamming down in the wide, offensively comfortable leather chair across from Lex, Clark tries out a glare. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Sitting." Head cocked, Lex studies him with so much blatancy that Clark feels more underdressed than usual. Almost naked, even. "How are you?"

"Fine, great, and Smallville, by the way, is losing oxygen by the second, what with the denuding of anything floral." Oh, he's petty and really not great at the witticisms. Closing his eyes, Clark takes a deep breath. "Mr. Luthor--"

"Lex." Lex leans both elbows onto the desk, fixing him with a warm, personal look of true interest. The sort of interest that got socialites out of their underwear, managed to get Lois out of hers, and at sixteen, could have peeled the boxers right off of Clark's in the time it took to light a cigar. "Clark. Really. Relax."

"There's a bear by my desk."

Lex's mouth twitches from the practiced smile. The bastard is about to laugh. "Do you like it?"

Clark hadn't really got past the utter humiliation to decide on that. "That's not the point. You can't--" Clark stops. *Can't* isn't a word in Lex's vocabulary. Like *shouldn't* and *couldn't* and *wouldn't*. "Lex, if this is some sort of--I mean--" It just sounded weird. Lex, are you hitting on me? Lex, is this your idea of foreplay? Lex, it's been years and remember the time I broke all your really cool toys and you said you'd cut out my heart? With a Kryptonite spoon?

Taking a breath, Clark braces both feet on the floor.

"No."

"Dinner."

"You do still know the meaning of the word 'no', right?" Thing is, Lex might not. Looking up from beneath his bangs--he really needs a haircut--he watches Lex study him. Like a chessboard, maybe, or a particular area of unclaimed land that needs conquering real damn soon.

Or like--well, like he's looking at Clark, too. Like he sees him, not Superman, and Clark doesn't miss the hatred or the anger or the barely checked violence that has always simmered beneath the surface of every one of their encounters for so long that sometimes, Clark thinks that those years in Smallville were some kind of Kryptonite-induced hallucination.

It's a lot like being seventeen again, and that's where Clark stops the train of thought completely. Another breath, and he thinks about reaching for his notepad, but that'd be pretty silly at this point.

"Why? You didn't win. I withdrew. Different thing."

"Different thing," Lex agrees, and the smirk vanishes like it was never there at all. "It's just dinner, Clark--"

"Lex? You do remember I actually have a pretty good idea about your dating life, though the bear thing's new. I--" Clark stops, wondering if he can say the words. He can, actually. Leave me alone. I don't want you. I'm engaged to the most brilliant woman in the world.

Lies are easy for him. Always have been. The point of this entire thing was to bring that to a stop, and Clark bites his tongue on the words.

"Dinner, Clark. We can talk." Lex picks up a pen from the edge of the desk, running it lightly between his fingers. He's nervous, which is something on the order of a minor miracle, but the thing that makes Clark pause, Lex is letting it show. To him. "That's all I want, Clark."

Clark Kent hasn't seen the real Lex in far too long. Even this--too-polished, too-calm, too-reasonable, and too-damn smooth--is closer to the real thing than anything Lex has been since Smallville.

"Aren't you trying to conquer the Pacific Rim tonight?" That's--not even close to being snide, and Clark leans back in his chair, watching Lex watch him. And the pen that's stationed between those long fingers is bending under the stress that shows nowhere else, even in Lex's eyes.

Lex isn't playing. At least, not in any way that's familiar to either Clark Kent or Superman.

"Dinner." Clark can hear Lois' voice in his head, hear his dad's too, but Lois wins, per usual. She's just louder that way. And a hell of a lot closer. "What time?"

The pen is pushed aside like it wasn't almost bent in half.

"I'll pick you up at seven." And right, jaded sophistication isn't supposed to show relief, but it's there. It's Lex, and Clark knows every mood, every twitch, and it's as obvious as a shout.

"From the Planet. I have to--finish this." Clark looks at his notebook and sighs. He still has an interview to go. Oh damn. "Okay, interview now?"

Gesturing expansively, Lex settles back in his chair, giving Clark a smile that could light up the world. Clark feels a shiver run up his spine at the feel of it, remembering getting that look anytime he wanted it once upon a time. "Go right ahead."


Lex sends him back in a car--Aston Martin, no huge surprise, and the driver, Mercy, keeps giving him suspiciously friendly looks every time their eyes meet. Frankly, it's creepy as hell, but then again, Clark's doubted Mercy's ability for independent thought for years now. She's like this feminine extension of Lex with breasts, or so the cut of her coat suggests. Mumbling something like thank-you, Clark gets out in front of the newspaper, noting Lois, cigarette in hand, chatting with someone from The Inquisitor, but her head turns at the sight of him. Her eyes flicker, telling him, don't let anyone see you, Clark. Unless you want to be front page news.

Clark ducks through the swarm of people on afternoon break, approaching the glass doors like it's any day of the week. He wonders if the fact he's just accepted a date with the archnemesis of the world is written somewhere on his skin like invisible ink. Visible in just the right light or whenever Lois' eyes fix on him too long.

"Clark." Oh hell, he knows that Inquisitor employee. Chloe's buddy Daniel, Jimmy's favorite rival, and possibly the third most annoying human being ever born. Turning with a sigh, Clark watches Lois' eyes narrow as she takes him in, then a slow lift of the corner of her mouth, asking a question, a merrily arched eyebrow that confirms his short, defeated nod in answer.

Like she ever thought anything else.

"Hey, Daniel." Letting the door fall shut with a feeling a lot like doom, Clark turns to face them. Daniel's a lot like a puppy--bouncy, eager to please, but with sharp teeth hidden behind the goofy, gape-mouthed grin, and a mind almost as sharp as Lois'. He fools people like that, and while Clark can't like him, even for Chloe's sake, he does respect him. "I thought you'd be covering the NASA press conference."

"Nah. Got a new kid that Chloe wanted to break in." A shrug of tweed-clad shoulders, and Daniel settles beside him, taking out another cigarette. Lois saunters up, and Daniel's eyes flicker down her body like a conquest waiting to happen.

Oh, stupid. Lois hates that.

Leaning into the rough brick wall, Lois blows out a slow line of smoke like she's warming up her mouth for the oral sex Olympics. Whoa. Clark sucks in a slow breath and Daniel's eyes glaze over.

"Daniel heard about the interview," Lois drawls, tossing it out with all the power of a bomb wrapped in a blanket. Nice. He's seen Lois use every weapon in her arsenal to get a story, but never to keep one from happening. "I was telling him about your history."

Her eyes hold his, and the simple, clean explanation is there. Also, the fact that the body count in the Daily Planet will jump when she finds out who leaked the information to the Inquisitor. Clark could almost pity whoever she discovers.

"You knew Luthor from Smallville?" Daniel asked, shaking his gaze free of Lois' mouth with some difficulty.

"A little," Clark answers, thinking fast. "When we were kids. Lois, I have to get that report to Perry. Did you want--"

"Sure, Smallville." The butt flicks out, just missing Daniel's shoulder when he moves. "Sorry, Daniel, duty calls. See ya." Leaning past Clark, she pulls the door open and Clark ducks inside, Lois on his heels like a frighteningly beautiful bodyguard. The second the glass shuts between them and Daniel, she gives him a look under her lashes that says, you're going to spill everything. And she's right.

But business first.

"What did you get?"

Clark pulls out his notebook, letting Lois look it over with sharp eyes.

"Good job. You covered the ETA lawsuit and the pending monopoly investigation." Looking up, she hands it back, finishing with an easy stride to the elevator that human Clark legs have issues keeping up with these days. "This'll be your first solo front-pager, kiddo."

Clark stumbles in shock.

"What?"

The dark head turns as she jabs a finger into the button.

"You've heard of it, right? It's the page that isn't A-16, where articles sometimes appear if they're interesting. Come on, we've managed it together before." A flash of wide white teeth follow the pronouncement like it's the most natural thing in the world.

"This?" He waves the notebook a little wildly, but really, can anyone blame him for being a little off-balance? This has been a really damn weird week. Hysteria should be in his future. Or a padded room. "Why--"

"NASA will have headline, but this?" She flicks her nails at him like she's trying to get dust off the tips, and the door slides open. "Daniel's drooling through his capped teeth. No one gets this and you did."

Oh damn. Taking a breath, Clark follows her as the elevator door opens.

"I'm going to be front page news soon, aren't I?" Clark asks, leaning into the back wall as she hits the correct button.

"Never here." The dark voice softens a little, sharp eyes fixing on him. "But yeah, the second Chloe gets back, your ass is grass. Whoever the hell she has at the Planet probably told everything that's happened, even if Luthor was smart enough to keep his name off the tags. Though when I find out who leaked the interview information--" The full mouth tightens almost imperceptibly, and Clark feels a sudden start of pity for the person or persons responsible. "Never mind. Ralph should be back tomorrow with more details, but I downloaded the livefeed and compressed it for you to look over. Did the--" She stops, frowning slightly. "Have you contacted up north by any chance?"

Well, that would be logical, so of course not. He's still getting used to the fact the first water in the morning in his shower is fucking cold and he has to brush his teeth or there will be cavities in his future. Remembering Lois' three days of toothache, he's not exactly eager to find out what that's like. Blinking, Clark considers.

"I don't think I can get back in physically. It's matched to--a different set of prints." DNA changes, that is, and he really hadn't thought much about this, had he? "I can log in through my laptop and see if there's anything, but I checked the math again last night. It doesn't look dangerous."

"Hmm." Lois' mouth purses, rubbing her thumb idly into the gold woven bracelet curved around one wrist. Her itchy look, though Clark's never told her that. He likes the way his face is arranged, thank you very much. "Clark, do you remember a few years ago, when we had all those blackouts?"

"Live Wire." Not a memory Clark treasures either.

"Right." Another slow rub, and Lois' eyes glaze a little. "Leaving out the part where you didn't tell me everything you knew--"

Clark winces.

"--remember how there was a pattern that no one could see?"

"You saw it."

"No, I didn't. I just paid attention to the reports." Yes. Because Lois doesn't believe in intuition at all, no matter the she's the case that could prove its existence to any skeptic out there. "You found it. It's--that same feeling now. I've read everything in the public feeds and your analysis, though God knows, I'm not exactly a physicist." She pauses, tongue sliding out to lick her upper lip. "I was watching the feed. The military's acting fine. The spokesman for NASA, Eldritch, was fine. So was most of the NASA staff who was called up to discuss the situation. Dr. Rhinestadt wasn't."

Whoa. The ping of the elevator catches them, but Clark hits the stop button, holding the door closed. Rhinestadt is the best of the theoretical astrophysicists. People bent over backwards to hire him after he earned his dual doctorate in astrophysics and astronomy at the ripe old age of twenty. He makes Lex look like a slacker. Barely.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know." The crease between her brows is as good as confirmation. "You're not worried, the government isn't worried, the Justice League isn't worried, and I'm not worried, either. But Rhinestadt is and he's not telling why."

"Interview?"

"Got it while you were gone. Tomorrow at two. I'm flying out in the morning." Another frown, before she glances at the door. "Open up, Smallville. Your boyfriend's toys are all safely put away--orchids to the hospital, bear to your apartment. Tell me I can be there when your dad sees it."

Clark bangs his head into the wall, then winces at the sharp pain. Damn humanity anyway. Lois' smirk is unreal.

"By the way, from the look on your face, I'm guessing you have a date tonight."

She steps out of the elevator, once again completely at ease, a hand stroking down the fine wool of her skirt and straightening her jacket. Jesus. Taking a breath, Clark steps out, aware he's yet again the center of attention. Furtive attention--Lois is watching. Head down, he feels his shoulders slump under the weight of all those eyes as he follows her down the aisle, finding their desks by dint of stopping when Lois does. His chair's close enough to fall into, and he busies himself straightening an already immaculate desk. Someone cleaned up the water and stacked his folders up neatly.

"Perry's expecting your report," Lois says softly before turning to her computer. "The bit with Rhinestadt from the press conference is in your email. Look it over when you get back and tell me what you think."

If he can log into the Fortress, he can send it there after and see what it picks up. It's gotten pretty good at analyzing subconscious human physical cues.

"How sure are you?" Clark asks, but it's a rhetorical question. Lois doesn't believe in instincts, never has, but that doesn't change the fact she has them, so sharply developed they're as much a part of her as the intelligence and the drive.

"Sure enough that I canceled my vacation time next week," she answers quietly, not looking at him. "I'm running a background check on Rhinestadt as we speak."

Clark nods slowly, standing up.

"Oh, and I sent your good suit to the cleaners. Where's your boyfriend picking you up?"

Clark grits his teeth together. She really won't let this go.

"My friend is picking me up here." Taking a breath, Clark lets it out slowly. He should have said, I'll meet you there, Lex. Except Clark's car is--embarrassing. So very, very embarrassing. He should have thought to ask to borrow Lois' convertible. Or something.

"Oh good. Pick up your suit at five from Wallington's." Lois had a way about her with dry cleaners. A flash of teeth, a show of strength, and they roll over like--logs. Or some comparison Clark's brain is too confused to handle. Giving a long, dark look to the back of her head, Clark stalks by her towards Perry's office, notes in hand. He can hear her whistle off-key as he walks down the aisle.

Right, work. Getting to it.


Clark debates whether to wait upstairs or outside on the street. Both have their drawbacks. People who know him will notice that he's standing around The Daily Planet like a moron, but Lex might send someone up--or dear God, come himself--and his coworkers here just might notice a too-familiar CEO slumming through the building.

Change 'might' to 'will', and all those half-hidden questions will be answered in less time than it takes a pin to drop.

His suit feels weird--it's his best one, the one Lois picked out when she gave up on his taste in clothes. The price was the equivalent of three paychecks, and he's still paying off the credit card that covered it, but Lois' eyebrow had been pretty much irresistible. He needed one very good suit, she'd said, intimidating the salesgirl to silence while she prowled the aisles. We have appearances to maintain. Wear whatever crap you like to work, but when we're in public, you'll look decent if I have to dress you myself.

The scary thing is, Clark's pretty sure if it had come to that, she would have. Sighing, Clark imagines Lex and Lois shopping. They must have had a blast together going through every boutique and department store in Metropolis. Clark doesn't even want to know what they did on those two trips to Italy. Lois had returned with an egregious number of shoes and a smug grin.

Staring at the mess of papers on his desk, Clark leans back, thinking about Lois. They--hadn't been close then. She was meeting Superman for the first time and building her reputation, annoyed with the kid from MetU heeling her like a puppy, so all he knew of Lex and Lois was what had appeared in The Inquisitor from time to time. It'd been weeks before he'd really made the connection, though granted, he'd been busy and distracted with the shock of living on his own and being out of college, trying to find balance in handling the dual identities he was creating.

Lois, his mentor, the woman who drank coffee black by the gallon and symbolized the epitome of everything he wanted to be as a reporter, was Lex Luthor's lover.

No wonder they hadn't gotten along so well at first.

Frowning, Clark picks up a pencil, drawing slow circles on some notes from a forgettable story involving under the table mob deals and the city council. It hadn't been just that, he thinks, although he'll admit in the smallest corner of his mind that it hadn't helped. The woman he idolized in college, who did four years in three and graduated to become the star reporter of The Planet after less than a full year on the job, also had something else, something that he couldn't even admit he'd wanted.

Of course, it hadn't helped either that he'd done that Superman interview first. Oh yeah, that had--definitely pissed her off, and again, after she'd found out who he was.... Well. That's a conversation he doesn't like to remember to this day.

But still. The break-up hadn't been anything huge--not like Lex's latest divorce, though the society pages had gleefully reported what scant details they could get. Lois wasn't the type to talk, and Lex--well, Lex was and is Lex, and his personal life is his own. She'd never discussed it--not with Chloe, he knows for a fact, not with him, not with anyone that Clark could ask if he was actually stupid enough to be curious.

Which he was. Is. Always has been.

And it's--weird. Weird, that they're openly hostile but never bitter, that the respect still exists, even if neither would admit it. That Lois is showing really bizarre amounts of non-surprise at this whole turn of events, and God, he needs a couple of hours with her over dinner sometime this week to work this out. His life is confusing enough--Lois is like icing on the weirdness cake and that's one thing in this mess he can actually work on.

And here he'd thought being just Clark would make his life simpler.

"Thinking?"

Clark's eyes fix on the clock. Oh crap. Turning slowly, he watches Lex lean carefully into the desk behind him, like it might have the plague but he's willing to be reckless just this once, arms crossed. Black and grey, very Lex, watching Clark with a little smile that makes something in Clark warm uncomfortably.

Comfortably, if he's honest.

"Sort of." Glancing around, Clark notes the heads that jerk down at his sudden attention, the noisy and completely obvious clatter of keys. Sighing, he stands up, picking up his coat from behind his desk. "Wow, it's going to be fun here tomorrow."

Lex half-turns, looking around the room with a cool, measuring gaze, before flicking back to Clark with a raised eyebrow.

"They have better things to do." Pitched just loud enough to be heard. Jesus, Lex, subtlety would be nice here. Pulling the coat on, Clark shuts down his computer, locking up his notebook in the desk. He already sent what he needs from work home via email. Perry's the stoic equivalent of ecstatic--an eyebrow jump and a twitch of his mouth--that the next edition will have the interview with Lex on the front page. "Ready, Clark?"

"Yeah." This is--dinner. Not a big deal. Everyone has dinner. It's a required meal of the day. Breathe. Lex motions him to go, falling into easy step beside him, and this is Smallville all over again, two friends calmly going for food, except everything's different.

Lex isn't hiding anything at all, and Clark can feel the want like heat projected against his skin.

"You're a lot more subtle usually," Clark hears himself say as the elevator doors slide shut. "I mean--a lot more subtle."

"I've noticed hammers are required more than rapiers in some situations," Lex answers lightly, pressing the button to the garage level. Huh. So it wouldn't have been a good idea to wait out front after all.

The silence that falls after is unnerving in every way. Clark takes a breath, trying to think of something to say to fill the silence, but nothing comes to mind. Latest nefarious plot? Not Clark's business anymore, really. He wonders who the Justice League will hand Metropolis over to. Bruce's last email had made uncomfortable statements regarding duty and sacrifice, but Clark had deleted it before he got too far. Superman is gone. Bruce had better just get used to it.

Hell, all of them should get used to it. There are murmurs already among the residents of the city. It makes him wonder who Perry will assign to look into the Mysterious Disappearance of Superman.

A flash of CNN's latest report flickers through his mind like a television changing channels. Flooding in Brazil. The Justice League had intervened, but--

"I was wondering when you'd start feeling guilty again," Lex remarks, and Clark flushes. He can't be that readable. No one is. "The flooding, right? Don't be. A LexCorp subsidiary had been monitoring the rains for weeks and your friends handled the rest. Most inhabitants with any sort of sense took our warnings and moved out before the flooding started."

"You going into the superhero business, Lex?" Clark hears himself say lightly, flickering a glance. Lex is perfectly at ease. Damn him.

"Nah. Good deeds are terrible for my image." Lex shifts, brushing a non-existent bit of lint from his sleeve. "How are you feeling? Any other side effects?"

Clark flicks a finger at the glasses and basks a little in the warmth of Lex's smile. It's okay to do that. "Twenty-forty, twenty-eighty, right and left respectively. I guess it's karma."

"I'm surprised Lois lets you out wearing those." Clark's gotten a thing for the heavy black rims. There's an edge in Lex's voice that makes Clark wonder, just a little, but he pushes the thoughts aside forcefully. This so isn't the time to be thinking of Lois and Lex together. "You've lost weight."

He has, actually, though the coat and suit should hide it. He wouldn't have noticed except this suit is tailored, and his waist has lost a least an inch since the last wearing. Blinking, Clark turns to look at Lex, who looks back without any expression at all.

"That's all it takes?" Clark asks slowly. Lex's puzzlement is almost a goad. "What, twelve years where you wouldn't even acknowledge I existed, then I hang up the tights and you--" Clark stops, clenching his teeth. That hurts, muscles locking, almost cramping, and God, he's still not used to human muscles. A purely human body. The little thrill is still there, though, like when he cursed this morning when he stubbed his toe, and dropped the toast, no superspeed to save it. Human. Completely not what he expected. And the best thing ever.

"It would have been harder any other way." Lex's gaze fixes on the elevator wall over Clark's right shoulder.

"This was easier?" Staring at the door, Clark wraps both arms over his chest, trying to think. "You tried to kill me--"

"I'd usually succeed, you know." Clark shivers, remembering too many encounters to even begin to count them. The ripping pain of Kryptonite, the things they said to each other, the things they'd both meant with all their souls. "When I try. I should have." The thoughtful lift makes Clark turn just enough to look at Lex.

Who still seems to find the wall some kind of marvelous wonder to behold.

"You could have fooled me."

"No problem. I think I fooled myself." The smile's self mocking and Lex looks down, that intense gaze fixed on the floor. "It would have been easy to order on your little trip to the Arctic. Michael was an assassin. You went north in a private plane alone and you didn't even do a background check on your pilot, which was very annoying, by the way, since I went to a lot of trouble to set up a good story.

"Michael waited for my call for the entire trip from Metropolis International to that silly science station that Clark Kent just had to do a story about." Lex stops, lips tightening.

The quiet rush of the elevator is the only sound, then the ping as they get out on garage level. Lex gets out his keys, coat flickering back in dramatic exit mode, per usual, and he doesn't even do it consciously. Clark is only two steps behind, and then there's nothing but silence.

"Why didn't you? The way there, the way back--if you're going to trot out some line out of a Hallmark card, I won't believe you." Though Clark might. Lex says Clark's dense, but Lex can be, too, and sometimes, it does take hammers. It's a deliberate thing, Clark thinks, a way to cope with a father like Lionel. To create your own blind spots and not see, because it hurts too much. Clark has some of those still, remnants of Superman and the life he'd had to live.

There've been a thousand ways for Superman to die, and there's a thousand reasons he didn't, but it comes down to that single thing that he knows about Lex. Lex wins at almost any cost. Superman's life might have been cheap, but maybe Clark's wasn't.

"So what now?" Clark comes to a stop, waiting as the line of Lex's back stiffens even more. With a slow turn, Lex is looking at him--seeing him, and it hits like the first time Clark looked into those eyes and thought he saw everything in the world inside them on a muddy bank in a forgettable town.

"If you're expecting a guided tour out of life just because you're human, you're going to be disappointed." Lex shrugs. "I don't know."

"I know everything about you." Clark takes a slow step toward Lex. There's destiny and then there's this--Clark doesn't have a roadsign left anywhere in sight. Destiny's gone out the window, pedigree is shot, and it's all free-fall and terrifying.

This is how Lex lives, like humans live.

"Not everything."

"I got you thrown in prison. I destroyed your projects. You can't pretend that Superman's separate, because he never was." Lois was right, and he's never telling her that. Nothing's changed inside, just the covering over it all. "You know who I am, Lex. Just because I'm only Clark now doesn't mean I wasn't Superman, too."

"Just because I was your enemy doesn't mean I--." He can almost see Lex thinking and thinking hard. He thinks too much, more than anyone Clark's ever met. "I don't think it's that simple, Clark."

"What do you want?" Another step that at very least answers that same question that Clark's been asking himself.

"Anything you're willing to give."

Clark feels the breath catch in his throat, a lump settling so words can't get out. This must be what it's like to remember falling in love.

And Lex is waiting. But then, he's always been waiting -- for his father's approval and a town's approbation and to live up to his own ideals, for the disapproval and the disgust and the failure.

There's only a few steps between them. Clark doesn't even know he's covering them, stumbling over a nonexistent crack in the perfect asphalt, and he can see Lex is still waiting for him to walk away even when Clark kisses him. Warm, soft lips that are too surprised to do anything but let him take, and he'd dreamed about this when he was still a kid and refused to think about it when he was awake.

How Lex tastes like brandy and like power and like vulnerability, and then slim fingers are in his hair and Lex is kissing him back. Leaning into him, touching him lightly, it's like the typical first kiss in every way except it's Lex and he's anything but typical.

Clark pulls away when he runs out of air--another new thing, and he's panting and hard and shocked at how the blood races through his body and that everywhere they're touching is so warm.

"The only thing that's changed is the location of the battlefields," Clark says, licking his lips. He's left Lex speechless. That's pretty damn cool. "You get that, right?"

"We can negotiate." Lex turning it into a business deal. So typical. Any way he can get it, he will. Clark grins and forces himself to pull back, and Lex's eyes are wide and completely open in a way that Clark never would have appreciated as a teenager. One hand lifts like he means to touch his mouth, jerked down almost immediately, and Clark grins. "Which car?"

"...Porsche. You might recognize it."

Clark rolls his eyes as Lex abruptly remembers the keys clutched in one hand and pushes down on the button, the bright, strangely happy sound of the disabled alarm filling the garage. It's only two cars away. In Perry's space, of course.

Silver-blue, sleek, and a newer model, but as unforgettable as the repaired bridge, and Clark begins to laugh when he sees it.

"You are such a romantic."

Lex laughs. A laugh that echoes everywhere, amused and young and carefree. A kid Clark used to know who drove ninety miles an hour over Smallville's country roads sounded a lot like that.

Warm, leather-gloved fingers brush his elbow. "What gave it away?"


The first thing Clark sees on his desk is the dozen roses--red, long-stem, no thorns, and he grins as he spots the dark purple ribbon wrapped around the crystal vase. A card's attached this time, and he sits down, carefully pulling it free of the roses, glancing at the neat script, a florist's handwriting, but maybe she was channeling Lex when she wrote the strong LL on the back because it's very similar.

Lex, apparently, is done with anything even vaguely resembling discretion.

"Have a good night?" A coffee and a cinnamon roll slide in front of him, still steaming. Lois remembers he forgets breakfast a lot when he's distracted.

Clark blinks, looking up as she shifts the vase over, seating herself on the edge of the desk. Today, an elegant fawn pantsuit, minimal jewelry, nails in beige rose. The dark hair is twisted up and back in a simple chignon, more for convenience that style.

"I thought you'd be at the airport."

"My plane doesn't leave until nine. You didn't answer your cell phone, so I figured I'd come down here on my way." A folder lands just north of the cinnamon roll.. "Some information about Rhinestadt. Three guesses on his special passion."

Looking at the folder, Clark tries to think, wishing half-heartedly for X-ray.

"ET?"

"Clever boy." Tapping the folder with one lacquered nail, she looks at his computer monitor. "Got it in one. Now tell me what kind of ET he's been studying for the last, oh, two years."

If he's into extraterrestrials, that's easy. "Superman."

Lois laughs. "You're on a roll, Smallville. Let's see if you can go three for three. Who has been financing his little extracurricular activities in extraterrestrials."

Clark glances at the roses and grins. "LexCorp."

"Half right. Cadmus, Inc. Heard of it?"

Frowning, Clark flips the file open, looking at the first page of printed information. "Vaguely." One of the very few labs LexCorp owned openly. "Lex ran it in Smallville for a while. It's resurfaced occasionally for some genetic research, but it's the most public of his labs. Why wouldn't he use one of the secret ones?" Lex is more subtle than that, and far too good a businessman to let himself be linked. "This is too easy."

"That's what I thought." Leaning over, Lois flips through the pages, surrounding Clark with a mist of Chanel No 22. Clark's shocked to feel his nose begin to itch. "He's not hiding it at all--in black and white for anyone to see or any government agency to ask questions about. It's all aboveboard."

"Not meteorite research, then." The sneeze is swallowed with some difficulty before Lois withdraws.

"Not even a whiff, other than what directly relates to Superman." Finding the page, a finger slams down, marking something bolded. "Rhinestadt draws a very large salary for a theoretical astrophysicist who works paper only. Even for one hired by LexCorp."

Five hundred thousand a year. Jesus. Makes his NASA job look like a sinecure.

"Okay, you got me. What did you figure out?"

Leaning back, Lois kicks a heel into the desk, frowning. "Nothing. The EPA checks the lab like clockwork, there hasn't been a violation on record for as far as I could trace back, and they submit reports to the government regularly." Shaking her head, she smoothes down the line of her skirt. "Now ask me why this bothers me, because we both know Luthor's got half the inspectors on payroll."

"Why does it bother you?"

"Because the inspectors he's been allowing in aren't on his payroll."

Whoa. Leaning back, Clark glances at the folder again, trying to think of something to make that make sense. That's not very Lex at all.

"How far did you go back?"

"Two years. Shit." Lois pauses, checking a nail quickly, apparently noticing a flaw in her nail polish. Picking at it briefly, she gives up and looks back down at the folder. "Anyway. Cadmus is sharing information with the government and doing it so openly that it makes my back itch. That's not Luthor."

"No," Clark answers slowly. "It's not. What kind of information?"

"Everything on Superman you ever wanted to know except three things. Identity, location of his planet of origin, and, wait for it--"

God, she does drama well.

"--The Fortress."

Meteorite reactions in all their various incarnations, covered. Superman's abilities and weaknesses, covered.

"They got the physiological profile?" Clark asks, flipping through the pages. There's a vaguely queasy feeling in his stomach just from reading the scraps here and there. For almost pure speculation, it's not bad at all.

"Yes, but it's guesswork and not entirely accurate, though your reaction to a yellow sun is pretty much covered. I've been trying to track down someone who can get me access to internal memos, or at least someone that's seen them, but--" Lois stops short, giving him a strange look. He'd say compassion, but this is a story and Lois doesn't have much of that in this mode. "If I were the suspicious and paranoid kind, and if I were an alien on earth, reading that, I might think that Cadmus labs is trying to tell the government how to kill me. And I might think, maybe, that the government asked."

Clark feels the folder slip from suddenly numb fingers.

"Why?" Even to himself, his voice sounds hoarse. "What have I--I mean--" Years ago--God, it had to have been that huge thing in Columbia with Lex and that drug kingpin, Lex had thrown that at him. He can't remember the words--frankly, he doesn't want to remember them--but it was something along those lines. How Clark fought for a people who would kill and dissect him at the first opportunity. Something.

Years. It's been years and countless lives saved and countless bad guys taken in and neutralized, and now the government decides he might be a threat?

"Lois--" He stops, swallowing. "But no identity." For some reason, that bothers him most of all. Lex wouldn't share important tactical information about his greatest enemy--but he had. Except the three things that actually made the information at all useful. Right now, at best, everything they had was theoretical or observational--though Rhinestadt's a genius, so if anyone besides Lex could work without all the facts and still come to the right conclusion, he could. "I need to talk to Lex."

"Great idea. And maybe tell him why you want the information? Because really, we don't need fewer roadblocks in our investigation, do we?" Looking up, Lois shakes her head with a little grin. "See why I don't date?"

Okay, that's weird.

"Lois, you're being really weird now. I thought you'd want me to ask. Or at least try and find out--"

"Clark, you suck at undercover work and we both know it." Holding his gaze, she leans over and flips the folder closed. "Whatever they're doing, it's not a threat to you anymore as long as Luthor keeps his mouth shut. Do the rocks still affect you?"

No. Clark had tested that the third day. Just a pretty green stone now, and it made him queasy to look at it, but in a purely human, revolted sort of way. Not a 'please-let-me-die-because-this-fucking-hurts' way.

Shaking his head, he watches Lois' expression clear.

"Okay, then. Read this over and see if you can find a former employee to harass or something. Most are still LexCorp employees, but a few have moved to different jobs. You might find out something."

"Yeah," Clark answers slowly. "What are we trying to find out again?"

Lois' grin is brilliant. "What Rhinestadt's not telling about that coming meteor shower. From what's here, I'd almost say they're worried it's more Kryptonite to screw around with the ecology, but I'd like that confirmed." Shaking her head, she slides off his desk, straightening the line of her jacket, then gives him a mischievous grin. "How'd your date go?"

Apparently, the automatic blushing wasn't just a alien thing.

"Good." Very good, actually, and Clark had been meaning to take about an hour or so and just brood on it. The slide backward into comfortable companionship had been so easy, so effortless, it was like no time had passed at all between their last argument and their first date. "Dinner. That's all, so don't look like that. We're, um, meeting for lunch. Today."

Picking up her purse, Lois snickers. "To think you actually have a social life. The world must be coming to an end." Stretching, she does a quick check of her suit, then sighs. "All right. Wish me luck."

"You don't need it. Can I borrow your car?"

Rolling her eyes, Lois leans over to sniff a rose, keys jangling as she drops them on the desk. "Figured as much. I left it in the garage, Smallville. Don't break it. I'll try and call tonight if anything comes up. Be home tomorrow night when I get back. And have something interesting to tell me, 'kay? With details."

Waving at the folder, Clark sighs. "Not all of us are as good as you are at rooting out conspiracies in under twenty-four hours."

"Funny," Lois answers, tilting her head, mouth pursed slightly as she looks him up and down. "Did I say it had to be about work?" With a little smile and a flick of her purse, she saunters off, and Clark hears his own choked laugh. "Give your boyfriend my best, Kent." The elevator opens on command--like anything would disobey Lois when she feels playful--and she disappears inside, winking at him as the door shuts.

The ring of the phone distracts him from the lights on the elevator as she goes down, and Clark picks it up absently. "The Daily Planet, Kent speaking."

"And here I was trying to get pizza." The low voice makes Clark shiver, smile fading at the memory of that voice last night at dinner. God, if Lex could use that voice for crowds, he'd be president before his thirty-fifth birthday. "You're early."

"So are you. I thought big time CEO's slept in."

"I might, with sufficient incentive."

Leaning back in his chair, Clark shuts his eyes. God. "I'll keep that in mind. Pretty roses, by the way. I see you're giving up even the pretense of subtlety."

"It's easier to be blunt. Less chance of miscommunication." Clark can hear someone's voice speaking to Lex, though he can't quite make out the words. "More coffee, yes, and reschedule my twelve o'clock meeting."

"We can meet later."

"It's LexCorp's board. One of the few perks of my job is that I can reschedule when I want to." A little sigh, and Clark can hear Lex's chair shifting, the soft sounds of expensive wool on leather. "What are you doing?"

"Right now?" Clark glances around the room. Only a few people are in at this hour. Picking up his coffee, he takes a sip. Not enough sugar. "Getting ready to track down some stuff for Lois."

"New story?"

Clark glances down at the folder. "Are you asking about what I'm working on?"

The little pause speaks volumes, and Clark wonders what Lex is thinking about. "No. Work is work. Just don't expect me to leave business secrets and my passwords lying around the penthouse when you're here."

Clark feels himself grin. "'When' I'm there?"

"When. Come over for dinner tonight."

Wow. Lex isn't wasting any time at all. "You know, I don't put out on the second date."

The low laugh raises every hair on Clark's body and there's a twitch below the belt that makes him shift uncomfortably. "Maybe I can change your mind."

All it would take is a look. God, he's easy. Shaking his head, Clark kicks a foot up on the desk, trying to ease the sudden tightness of once-loose pants. "Maybe."

"My divorce went through yesterday." Lex's voice is impossibly dark, like velvet sliding over Clark's skin. Shivering, Clark tries to think of something that isn't sexy, or he's going to have a really long day ahead of him. Nothing comes to mind.

Divorce. Right, divorce. Sitting straight, Clark glances at his monitor, then at the flowers. Initialed. "Oh. So we're going from not-subtle to public?"

Lex, thinking again loudly enough for Clark to hear it over fiberoptic cables. "Maybe. Do you have a problem with that?"

Oh, well, no. Mom and Dad might, and Chloe will, and God alone knows what Pete will think, and is it getting hot in here? "No." Clark winces at the phone calls he'll be getting come tomorrow. "I just--didn't expect you to. Um. Well. Lex? This isn't like you."

It really, really isn't.

"Even I can't keep The Inquisitor silent forever. I bought time until my divorce was final, but that was all I could get."

Yeah, Clark really hadn't thought of that, but wow, this thing with Lex could have seriously screwed with the final details of that.

"I--"

"I don't want this to be secret." There's something in Lex's voice that Clark can't quite figure out. Determined, yeah, but also-- "I don't want to hide."

"Okay." Pushing aside everything else--and dammit, Lois would go out of town the one time he really, really needs her here--Clark nods into the phone. Lex can't see him, but he feels better doing it. "I don't mind. I--I'm sort of tired of secrets, too." How--how weird. This can be public. There's only Clark now--it doesn't matter who knows what he does.

Wow. He can date. He can go on a date and anyone can see him do it. He doesn't have to explain why he has to leave in the middle of dinner to help with an earthquake, or cancel five seconds before someone arrives or, God, miss it altogether and try to explain the next morning. He doesn't have to avoid inviting people to his apartment because he might have to leave suddenly. He doesn't have to pretend anything anymore.

"Clark?" Lex sounds worried.

Lightheadedly, Clark laughs. "Really, fine. It's just--I just realized that I can. Do anything I want."

"Now you figure it out." The amused indulgence makes Clark laugh harder. "Jesus, Clark, compose yourself. Where do you want to go for lunch?"

"I only have an hour. Fast food okay?" Choking back another laugh, Clark suddenly sees the keys on the edge of his desk. "I'll pick you up in front of LexCorp Plaza."

"...fast food?..."

"Be out front at twelve on the dot. Bye." He can almost see Lex's expression and, leaning his head onto his desk, almost laughs himself sick. His coworkers probably think he's crazy. He doesn't care.


Like dinner the night before, lunch with Lex is--comfortable.

Scarily comfortable, almost like being friends in Smallville again, except for all that sex that isn't happening, which right, is also a lot like Smallville, but now it's not happening because they don't have time. And it's going to happen, even if Clark's logical brain keeps telling him, are you really ready for this? You do remember that thing you two did where you sort of hated each other, right?

Clark's not listening to that part very often. It's not terribly loud, and it fades a little more every time Lex looks at him.

Like--like the first thought in his head when he saw Lex, cool in business grey, dark sunglasses, and almost defiantly challenging anyone to question why Lex Luthor was standing outside his own building for no apparent reason, is to touch. Insanely, insanely weird reasoning going on, but he had to close his hands over the steering wheel when Lex slid inside, settling beside Clark like it's something they've done every day, giving him a look over the fine edge of his glasses that....

Breathe, Clark.

"Something wrong?"

Clark blinks back into the warm deli, noting that the sandwiches at some point had appeared, and Lex is viewing him over the rim of a styrofoam cup of coffee with a curious expression. Reaching for a potato chip, Clark bites down aggressively and thinks non-sexy thoughts.

Very, very non-sexy thoughts. Freshly baked potato chips, extra salt. Not sexy. Lex, across from him, licking excess salt from his bare fingers. Sexy.

Oh, this is going to be a long day.

"No. I'm fine." Eating another potato chip, Clark shifts in his seat as Lex picks at the chicken salad sandwich in front of him with little frown of concentration, picking up one of the triangular quarters. "Um. How do you like it?"

Kaatz's is Clark's favorite place in the world to eat. They sell huge sandwiches and chips that are almost as good as the ones Mom makes sometimes when she has time--thickly cut potato, baked crisp, and covered in salt.

"Good," Lex answers after the first careful bite. "You scared me with mention of fast food."

"Please," Clark answers, checking his turkey club for mustard, "I saw the paper bags in the back of your cars. You're totally a fast food junkie."

"Clark, I have appearances to maintain." A quick smile, before Lex takes another bite. Their chicken salad is amazing. "And you never saw a fast food bag anywhere near my cars."

"Stuffed under the seat--"

"Take that back!"

"--like you were ashamed of it." Grinning, Clark ducks his head, getting back to the important task of eating.

Narrowed eyes greet him when he raises his head, and Clark swallows quickly before sticking his tongue out. Oh right. Not just adolescent hormones--there's been regression to adolescent behavior as well.

"Please." Lex shakes his head, finishing the first quarter. Eyes fix on Clark's sandwich briefly before flickering up. "You don't eat as much as you used to."

Surprised, Clark looks down at his plate. "Changed metabolism, I guess." With a little shrug, he picks up the second quarter of the club. "It's just--the first couple of days, it was hard to eat."

"Did you follow my instructions?"

Clark rolls his eyes. "Yes, Lex. Lois bought everything and mixed it herself. I'm fine. And yeah, that's what I was going to ask you. How the hell--"

"Did I know what would happen?" Lex shrugs elegantly, taking a careful bite. "Cause and effect. You changed your entire genetic structure and did it in under twelve hours if Michael's report is right." With a frown, Lex looks him over with a critical eye. "In fact, you should probably be eating more now than usual, at least for a while. Your body's used to taking a certain amount of nutrition from ultraviolet radiation and with that gone, the conversion--"

"I'm beginning to remember why I skipped Bio II."

"Hush." Lex frowns again, brow furrowed in thought. "Clark, have you seen a doctor?"

Putting down the remains of the sandwich, Clark grins. "Oh. Right. I forgot. I can call a doctor and ask, hey, I've just changed DNA and I need to know if I'm healthy--"

"That's not what I meant." Wiping his fingers, Lex pushes his plate aside. "I mean, you are human. You need to get a check-up and get your baselines. I'd do it--"

"--when did you get that medical degree?"

"--but you do need a regular doctor." Leaning both elbows on the table, Lex meets his eyes. "A full work-up."

"How do I explain my lack of medical history? I've visited less than ten times in my life." Sometime in childhood, though Clark doesn't have any clear memories of that, though his parents said he was unusually calm through the entire thing. Other than a few emergency-room visits, including his last time as human, he really doesn't have--anything. Wow.

"That's not a problem." Lex is looking at him carefully. "Go to Dr. Cassius."

Clark frowns, the name sending off vague alarms in his head. "He works for LexCorp, doesn't he?"

"And I pay him very well not to be too curious and ask too many questions." Lex raises an eyebrow, obviously amused by Clark's skepticism. "You don't have to trust my word--Cassius is an excellent doctor and he's very highly respected in medical circles. He heads up LexCorp medical, but you know that. You can check his credentials yourself at the office. Or pick another doctor. But you need to be baselined to find out what's normal for you now. Even among the human population, there's immense variation. You need to know."

He's right, though Clark doesn't want to admit it. Humans fall and break their legs or get sick all the time. They go to the hospital and get treated, and it might be a good idea to at least have someone to tell him what is and what isn't normal for him now.

Picking up a napkin, Clark takes a slow breath. "I feel fine."

"And I'd like it to stay that way. Jesus, you haven't even been vaccinated, have you?" Oh damn. Clark hadn't thought of that. Reaching down, Lex rummages in the pocket of his coat. "I'll make you an appointment for today--"

"Lex, I don't think--"

Lex pauses, fingers hovering over the keypad. There's a--well a lot that Clark's taking on faith here but--what could it hurt? He's got to trust Lex isn't using this for some weird purpose, and anyway, human. While the data might be interesting in theoretical terms, it's not like it could be at all useful otherwise.

"Okay." Looking down at the sandwich, Clark sighs. "I'll have to call Perry to take off for the afternoon. Where is--"

"I'll take you myself." Lex has the phone against his ear. "Benny?" Benny? Clark tries not to grin. "Yeah. Cancel whatever your one o'clock is. We'll be there in ten minutes." Clark watches Lex frown. "That's fine. New patient, standard work-up. No, a friend. Thanks." Turning it off, Lex looks up at him, a hint of a smile curving up the corner of his mouth. "Convenient."

"Hmm?" Fumbling for his cellphone, Clark blinks at the slow, lazy smile stretching Lex's mouth, looking him up and down, before getting to his feet.

"Come on."


That's how Clark gets backed into an alley in the middle of lunch hour in Metropolis.

There are some things that are predictable, like tides, migration of certain species of birds, and Dad's reaction to the name Luthor. There are things that aren't. Those things include a Lex who glances casually around the street then pushes Clark into an alley, only a few feet from an overfilled dumpster, before his tongue is in Clark's mouth and his hands are pulling Clark's coat open, sliding inside.

Oh God. This time, Clark moves faster, finding skin with his fingertips, fine as parchment on Lex's throat, skims a thumb over Lex's jaw. The low, pleased sound makes him shiver.

Cold brick is against his back and Lex's teeth are against his throat, pressing in, and Clark shudders at the start of pain--actual pain, twisting into each nerve, and it goes everywhere in his body, making him want to wince and pull away and grind his cock into Lex's thigh and pull him closer.

God, he hadn't even guessed.

Settling for a strangled gasp, Clark looks for words. "Lex. We're--in an alley." In public. Very, very public.

"Noticed that." Breathed hot on wet skin and Clark feels his cock twitch as he slides his hands down Lex's back, digging in when Lex's tongue slides over his collarbone.

"This--isn't your style." Or hell, Clark's either, but Clark's usual style has been pretty damn lousy so far, so he's willing to change techniques.

"And you think you know everything about me." A far too fast brush against his cock with the palm of Lex's hand, and Clark shudders, one hand locking on Lex's shoulder. Wet breath on his ear, a tongue following, gently pushing inside.

"Anyone could see us."

"So they could." Another brush against his cock, and Clark swallows, head scraping against the brick, eyes falling closed. His shirt's pulled free of his pants and warm hands slide over his waist, digging into his lower back, pulling them together, cock to cock. "I want you."

"Oh." Inane as hell, he's making out in an alley, but that's what he gets for going to lunch with jaded, too-sexy CEOs. There's a brief image of returning to work after having come in his pants, but right now, that's just fine. "Lex--"

A low, rumbling sound from the side of his neck, and Clark shudders at the next quick bite just below the collar of his shirt. "You bruise now." There's a trace of rich satisfaction in his voice, tongue licking soothingly over the skin. "So sorry, Clark--"

"Fuck you."

"Tonight." The low promise makes Clark shudder hard, and those able fingers unbutton the top of his pants, easing the zipper down. God, those hands--leather-covered, soft, sliding in his boxers, closing around him tight and hard. "Don't come yet."

Oh--oh God, easier said than done. He bites into his lip, the flash of pain barely enough to hold on, and then Lex is--dear God, is crouching, right here in this filthy alley, eyes fixed on his crotch with intent.

"Lex, what are you doing?"

A flashing smile upward, bright and hungry and sharp. "How long has it been since you had sex, Kent? Guess."

"Oh God." This really couldn't be happening. But those talented fingers are drawing him through the slit in his boxers, other hand on his hip, holding him still, and Lex leans forward, brushing the tip of his tongue over the head. "Lex, God, you can't--"

"I'm not sure I know that word." Hot breath now against the head, then Lex leans forward, taking the entirety into his mouth, sucking lightly. Clark's head slams into the brick--oh wow, that hurts, almost enough to distract him except, except, except Lex is sucking his cock and there's nothing on earth that can distract anyone from that. Lex pulls off with a wet sound that's like a shock to his nervous system, and a humiliating whimper is pushed out between Clark's lips. Looking up, the clear blue eyes look into Clark's, sparkling, dangerous, hot. "Take a deep breath, Clark. You're going to need it."

Swallowed whole. No time for thought or protesting or even that needed breath, because his cock is surrounded by tight, wet heat, and Lex hums something and Clark's losing his grip on reality. He can't be in a dirty alley, he's not pounding his hands against brick, and there's no way this is actually happening.

The world condenses into nothing but this--heat, wet, tight, suction, scraping through every nerve. It's never been like this. He's making noises and it's Lex's name over and over and over, because there aren't any other words that apply. Warm leather cups around his balls, playing lightly, stroking, then slide just behind to that insanely sensitive skin just behind them, that place that makes Clark come, every time.

Makes him come now, screaming, bruising his hands on rough brick and maybe concussing himself but who the hell cares? Knees like water, his body's sending wild signals about overload and too-good, and he barely catches himself on Lex's shoulder before he sinks to the ground.

And like that, Lex is on his feet, stepping between his thighs, hands trapping him against the wall, taking his mouth in a slow, sweet kiss. Clark can taste himself layered over everything else and his cock gives a half-hearted jerk that makes him wince.

When Lex pulls back, the reddened lips smile. "Third date, hmm?"

Clark hears himself choke out a laugh before Lex tucks him back in his pants, zipping them up neatly, then stepping back to check his own apparel. Like he's anything other than immaculate even now, and he licks his lips lightly, like he can taste Clark there still.

"Lex--"

Hot eyes look into his, freezing the words on his tongue, and a gloved hand closes over his elbow, pulling gently. "Come on. We'll be late."

Late. Appointment. Right. Nodding slowly, Clark pushes himself off the wall, surprised his legs will hold him up at all. When they emerge back into the street, Clark wonders if the entire world can see his blush.


On seeing Dr. Cassius for the first time, Clark remembers the interview Lois did for some LexCorp story involving radiation less than a year before. Non-committal answers and a brief flashing grin, sharp eyes.

Nothing useful. Lex is right--alone among LexCorp employees, he's so completely squeaky-clean that he makes Clark's teeth itch. Not even a rumor of misbehavior for a man who heads up LexCorp's medical staff. Published in numerous medical journals, a highly respected, completely brilliant researcher. A typical LexCorp employee in every way.

Right, *that's* why Clark feels nervous around him.

"Lex." Cassius comes out before the secretary even has time to call him--tall and slim, blond, with blue eyes that remind Clark of Lex, impeccable in suit and the typical immaculate white lab coat, glancing briefly over his glasses at Clark before extending a hand to Lex, who shakes it with every sign of pleasure.

"Benny, this is Clark Kent." Lex's grin is bright and real--not what Clark expected between employer and employee. The blue eyes fix on Clark briefly, no expression at all, but the handshake's firm and friendly. "I need a full work up and results by tonight."

"And you'd like me to discover the cure for all types of cancer as well?" Rolling his eyes, Cassius shakes his head. "Come on. I set up everything so neither of you will have to wait. Do you want him present, Mr. Kent?" Not even looking at Lex, like this is totally Clark's choice.

Oh. Does he want Lex around while he's poked and prodded?

"Can I use your office?" Lex says, saving Clark the trouble of overthinking. Cassius rolls his eyes.

"Sure. Don't break my computer again and try not to fuck up my records while you try to conquer the eastern United States today?" With a grin, Benny looks back at his secretary. "Hold all calls or forward to Mitchell. He'll be in to take over the rest of my appointments." Waving at the door, Cassius looks at Clark. "Ready?"

Wow, good question. There's a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, reaching outward and sending every alarm in his head off in various degrees of loudness. Dad's really loud, saying 'Luthor' and 'experiment' and 'dangerous', because he never--never--

Breathe, Clark. Human. Nothing else.

"Sure."

He's been with his mother to the doctor's before. And in ER's. The exam room is cheerful in butter yellow, kind of like being trapped in the yolk of an egg. Shiny metal equipment, but also big leather armchairs and the utilitarian cabinets aren't quite as intimidating as he expected. Cassius closes the door, motioning him up on the bed. Peeling his coat off, Clark perches uncomfortably on the edge, watching Cassius move restlessly around the room. A man who can't sit still. A lot like Lex, come to think.

"Arrhythmia, I think, but well within normal," Cassius says, startling him, and Clark almost jumps off the bed. The blue eyes hold his, like there's a secret message that's being passed between them that Clark has to figure out. "I was born in Smallville."

For a second, nothing. Then Clark blinks, watching the doctor watch him.

"Oh."

"I was eight when the meteor shower hit." Another pause, and then Cassius picks up a palm pilot, looking at it carefully. "My mother took me out of town a year later. I had some unusual reactions to the radiation."

Jesus. Clark flushes as the doctor makes some notes. "I'll be running the basic physical work-up. I'll need your permission for DNA testing for genetic abnormalities and a full blood work-up." Cassius looks at him over his glasses. "Did the mix work to clear the radiation reaction?"

Every hair on his body stands straight up, and the only thing keeping Clark in the room is utter terror. "How much do you know?"

Cassius shrugs lightly. "Lex did the chemistry, I provided the genetic and biological information." Making another note, Cassius turns away, pulling out a drawer. Right. Blood. Great. With a man who knows--who knows something, but--

Radiation effects. Clark lets out a slow breath. "A lot of people were affected by the meteorites."

"In varying degrees of severity," Cassius agrees, coming over with the needle and a set of vials. Settling them down, Cassius moves a wheeled table under Clark's arm. Frowning, Clark looks down.

"Aren't you going to--"

"Don't need to." The smile is slightly mocking, but only of himself. "Light arrhythmia, normal lung function, normal liver function, normal kidney function, et cetera. You're about as baseline human as they come." The smile smoothes out. "If someone were to say, make me a normal human, this is what they would get." Looking into Clark's eyes, Cassius' smile fades a little. "Like when you're a kid and you think, make it so I find out if people are sick before it's fatal like Mom...."

Clark sucks in a breath. Jesus.

"It must be hell to be out in the city." Clark remembers hearing their pain, night after night. But--but feeling, knowing that this man is dying of cancer, that one has this disease, all around you, all the time....

Cassius glances at the door, then makes a wide motion encompassing the room. "The entire building is lead-lined so I can't feel anything outside it. When Lex found out it blocks--that--he built this for me." Cassius shrugs, making a simple tourniquet around Clark's arm. "I couldn't practice at all otherwise. I barely made it through medical school."

No, Cassius would have gone crazy in a hospital or normal clinic. Knowing. Always knowing, and Clark sucks in a breath.

"I should have asked, let me cure disease, but God knows what would have come of that." The lightness is betrayed by an edge that makes Clark shudder, then the needle slides cleanly through the skin. Fascinated, Clark watches blood fill the reservoir. He's getting nauseated. Oh God, he's got needle issues. "I'll analyze this. I need a few other samples...." Cassius trails off meaningfully, glancing up once before removing the first vial and snapping the second onto the needle. "The usual culture."

Forcing his eyes straight ahead, Clark takes long, deep breaths, trying to think.

"How--how did you meet--" Stupid question. Does it matter? Lex has always been fascinated by mutants of all kinds.

"I diagnosed his cancer from radiation exposure." Clark looks up, surprised. "We met at a hotel in Lisbon when I was--escaping my problems." A strange, dreamy look covers the doctor's face. "He--told me he could make it better. That I could still be a doctor and help people." A little shrug. "I head the LexCorp medical staff. I also oversee the facility where less successful Smallville mutations are kept."

"Kept." Clark's mouth tightens. "Yeah."

"Better than the alternative," Cassius says shortly, and the last vial is filled. Pressing down with a cotton ball, Cassius pulls the needle out. "Psychosis is standard for those whose DNA couldn't handle the changes." A little shrug before he straightens. "It was me or mental institutions and prisons. I decided I could do better treating them than the government."

Clark has no idea what to say to that, but he nods stiffly as Cassius walks picks up a swab, absently running it across the inside of Clark's mouth before sealing it away.

"Do you experiment on them?"

The fast turn is startling--but then, most meteor mutants seem to have picked up some seriously good motor control. Pulling his lab jacket sleeve up, Cassius unbuttons his shirt, deliberately rolling up the sleeve. Clark sucks in a breath at the line of needle scars. Old, fresh, some have to be from as recently as yesterday.

"On all of us." A long second passes, then Cassius rolls his sleeve back down, once again the mild, quiet doctor in a perfectly average examining room. Picking up the vials, Cassius turns to Clark. "I'll be back in a moment."

He's no more than out the door than Lex appears, leaning casually into the doorway. Clark slides off the table, taking a breath.

"You didn't tell me."

Lex shrugs. "You didn't ask. I told you he has impeccable credentials. He's also the only man alive who has access to almost every record of mutation in Smallville." The tight grin makes Clark wince. "The government, for obvious reasons, has no idea about any of that." Lex runs a finger absently over the edge of his sleeve, picking away nonexistent lint. "What do you want me to say, Clark? You've known about my research for years."

"I--" Clark stops. In theory, yes. "What are you doing to them?"

"Studying them. Treating them when possible. Trying to fix what the kryptonite fucked up. Keeping them out of the public eye and government records." Raising a hand, Lex peels off the glove. It looks human--it even feels human, so human that Clark's forgotten Lex has been without his hand for over two years. "Meteorite mutations--Cassius can't feel them as well as a baseline human, but he can still feel it. He wants to cure them. He oversaw every aspect of my treatment for kryptonite poisoning. He knows wild mutation is perfectly possible and even likely. Most people who were exposed don't get the option to mutate and go straight to cancer. I was lucky enough to go both ways." Lex shrugs, putting the glove back on. "You don't have to trust me, Clark. But I'll ask you this--who would you trust with this? It's the biggest thing to hit human evolution since we crawled out of the sludge. Cassius has personal reason to want to help. And if I use his results--what's the harm?"

Staring at Lex, Clark tries to think. He's known--God, he's known for years Lex experiments with Kryptonite. Human subjects, though? Somewhere in the back of his head has always been the vague idea that there are some lines even Lex can't cross. Won't cross, no matter what.

Cassius comes back in, reading something on a clipboard. The blue eyes flicker up, capturing the moment, and Clark looks away.

"I'll schedule several round of immunizations," he says mildly. "Adults normally don't react as predictably as kids, but--" Cassius shrugs. "Also normally, the side effects are minimal. I'll start you off on the MMR and we'll monitor from there. Do you live alone?"

"Yes." Clark watches as Cassius keys open a cabinet. He keeps vaccinations here? How--weird. Or did Lex talk to him before making that call this afternoon? If Cassius was involved in the original stuff that Lois was shoving down his throat for two days, probably.

"I'd like you checking in with someone every four hours for the next twenty-four hours. Just in case of--"

"I'll take care of it." Clark glances at Lex, impassive face and veiled eyes. "I know the symptoms."

"You would."

Clark fixes his gaze on the far wall while Cassius administers the shot. He knows he's not up to watching shots yet--right, once a superhero, now freaking out about needles. This is just great.

"Okay. The lab will have full results by tomorrow." Cassius grins a little as he peels off his gloves, tossing them aside. "Has there been anything unusual--never mind. Everything's going to be unusual."

"He's lost about ten pounds," Lex says from the door, and Cassius gaze jerks around, fixing on him. "I'd guess also anemic. Appetite--"

"Jesus, Lex!" Flushing, Clark stands up, grabbing his coat. "I'm fine!"

Cassius makes a sound a lot like a laugh. "Right. Mr. Kent, try to keep track of what you eat over the next ten days?" Clark nods, stuffing his arms in his coat. "How do you want the results--"

"Clark, give him your cellphone number," Lex says shortly. "You can pick them up from the secretary."

Frowning, Clark finishes straightening his jacket. Cassius is smiling now, like there's a huge joke that no one but him gets.

"Thanks," Clark says, and he thinks he means it, reaching out to shake the firm hand, then walking by Lex into the waiting room. The secretary's on the phone, chatting lightly with someone, turned away from him. Leaning into the wall, Clark considers the office. From the exam room, Clark can hear the low murmur of voices, but human normal doesn't allow for much in the way of hearing what they're saying.

After a few seconds, Lex comes out, a little line between his brows and a tight set to his mouth. Without a word, Lex walks by him to the door, going outside.

Oh the bastard. Like he'll follow. And like he has a better idea. With an impatient sigh, Clark catches the door and steps into the cool Metropolis afternoon.

Lex is looking around with an abstracted air, like he's not entirely aware of what he's doing.

"You're pissed that I'm suspicious?" Clark asks. He's tempted to ask about Rhinestadt, but Lois is right. Whatever Lex is doing, he'll start covering things up fast if he thinks someone's looking for something they shouldn't see. It plays in his mind, though--Cassius, a meteor mutant and doctor, and Rhinestadt, astrophysicist. Just too nice a segue there.

Lex swings around, coat flying. Lex has an impeccable sense of drama. "Surprised? No. Pissed? A little. If I wanted to use you, I would have picked you up that first night. No one could have stopped me. No one would even have known."

Clark--hadn't thought of that.

"You didn't tell anyone what you were doing or where you were going, except Lois apparently." Lex shrugs lightly. "And I could have easily gotten her out of the way."

"Could you?" Maybe not a great time to remind Lex that Lois isn't just anyone but is Lex's ex and a pretty damn prominent reporter. "You wouldn't have a problem doing that to her?"

"I'd have a problem." There's only three steps between them, and only Lex would cover them, face to face, so close Clark can feel the warmth of his body through their clothes. "Do you think that's ever stopped me before?"

For a second, there isn't even air, and Clark flashes on too many looks just like this--hostile Lex, enemy Lex, enraged Lex, the Lex that Clark's fought for more years than they were ever friends. Something tightens in his chest, a burn following in his throat, and then Lex steps away, the mask falling into place.

"Don't do that." Lex looks at him in surprise. "Don't pretend that you don't care."

"Who says I care?"

Nothing. Everything. Superman didn't have this luxury, but hell, Superman's dead, Clark's here, and there's all kinds of luxury involved in it. Taking the step separating them, Clark reaches out, catching his elbow. Lex doesn't even flinch--some habits, Clark thinks, are harder to break than others.

"I do."

Defiant, definitely, but Lex is like that. He's never gotten over being a rebel, even in his mind. Some part of him misses Lionel to fight again, compare himself to. Superman had been good for that, Clark thinks. He has to wonder how Lex is going to function without a decent archenemy in sight.

Grinning, Clark slides his hand down the strong arm, lingering on soft wool over hard muscle, ending with long fingers, twining his between and pressing his thumb into the palm, circling slowly. He can feel Lex tense in an entirely different way.

"So you said something about dinner," Clark murmurs, taking another step, and they might be in the middle of downtown Metropolis but Clark doesn't really care. Lex meets his eyes with something a lot like anticipation.

"It's only two now. A little early, don't you think?"

Clark laughs. "Since when has convention stopped you?" Leaning closer, he brushes a fast kiss over parted lips, moving back too quickly for Lex to do anything but gasp softly. "I--I want to see you naked. Now."

The slow, sucked in breath is reward enough, even though he's blushing again, God, he's got to stop doing that. Stepping back, he snickers at the dazed blue eyes that blink before focusing sharply, looking into him like Lex is mapping everything he's going to touch and how he's going to do it. Dear God. Clark's cock pushes uncomfortably into his boxers, making him shudder.

Instantly, Lex has a cellphone in hand.

"Car. Now." He shuts it off and drops it in his pocket, cutting off Clark's protest. "Hope will take Lois' car back to the Planet." The fingers in his tighten, almost to the point of pain. Wow. Dark eyes fix on Clark's mouth, heavy, full of things that make Clark shiver again. "I'm going to enjoy you, Clark."


It only occurs to him when they're in the elevator, quietly going up to the penthouse, like two people not currently imagining each other very naked, that he really doesn't have all that much experience.

Okay, so right, there was college and stuff there--lots of stuff there, actually, but not, well, not much sex-sex. Making out and other adventures were all well and good, and yes, there'd been that hot frat guy who'd hit on him at the sophomore mixer and they'd had fun, but....

But Clark just couldn't be sure, then. Not-human, too many secrets, and the fear that someone might notice--something. Something like he doesn't bruise or things don't hurt, or he might--might hurt them. Even not meaning to, just forgetting even for a second, and more than one girlfriend had gotten a one o'clock phone call after a bad dream. Just for him to be sure they were okay.

More than one break-up after too many bad nights and a near miss, like Erica and her sprained wrist, Jane's bruised thigh when he held on too tightly.

That's--not a problem this time. Except for the fact that he's with someone who goes through lovers like toilet paper. Including Lois, and she--well. She wouldn't bother with an incompetent lover.

Jesus, Lex might not either. He's fucked Lois. Oh dear God.

"Clark?" Quiet, careful voice, like maybe Lex is aware sexual shock is setting in. Warm fingers close over his hand, then a gentle pull. "Clark. Stop."

"I'm fine." His voice is about an octave too high. This isn't happening. It just can't be. He is not panicking about sex with Lex.

"I wanted you the first time I saw you."

It goes straight to his cock and that's it, Clark is investing in more pants. Better pants. Pants that stretch or allow for men with sexy voices talking like that. Like it's perfectly normal conversation for people who still are only halfway to their destination. Sweat breaks out on the back of Clark's neck, trickling into his collar.

"That mouth," Lex muses, almost like he's talking to himself. "I used to wonder how you'd taste. How you'd look. How I'd--"

"Lex." His skin feels too tight, muscles involuntarily clenching. "You know--"

Lex's mouth cuts him off. Hard, fast, almost painful, sharp bite to his lower lip before pushing inside, and it's like a first kiss all over again. Lex kisses like he's conquering territory a hard-won inch at a time and has to pacify it afterward. A slow draw over his palate, licking across his tongue, and Clark gives up trying to keep up, just going with it. Reaching for Lex and getting his hands under that coat, feeling muscle and skin beneath wool and silk.

Lex, who tastes like everything Clark's ever imagined and feels like a fantasy.

The elevator bings softly, and Lex pulls away, licking his lips like he's holding onto the taste of Clark's mouth. The fingers twined in his pull, and Clark follows down a short hall, vaguely aware of Lex entering codes and then the door's opened and they're inside.

An impression of white walls, then his coat hits the floor. It's all like a dream--rooms going by, Lex saying something to some help they pass, but the only real thing is Lex. Lex, pushing open a door and pulling Clark inside behind him, then he's up against the door and--God, being eaten.

Like Lex is making up for every time they'd looked away from each other, every unfulfilled dream, every lost possibility. Like Lex is trying to rewrite history with just his mouth, saying, you, yes, you, Clark. This is what we both wanted and we didn't get. This is what we can have.

Clark wants that. Needs it, shoving the coat off Lex's shoulders, fingers pulling at buttons that don't rip off when he's too clumsy, forcing silk apart to touch pure skin, and it's like coming home. Like this first touch, skating over Lex's chest, his shoulders, his collarbone, isn't as new and completely different. He has to have known forever that Lex's skin tastes earthy and rich, that it's smooth beneath his tongue, that a lick at this dip of bone and muscle makes him twitch, hands clenching against Clark's back.

Wool trousers fight him, button resisting, and finally Lex pulls away with a breathless, wet sound, hands at his waist, looking up only once with that slow burn erupting into something that says, yes. Now. Now, Clark. "Clothes."

He gets his dress jacket off. Shirt is more tricky, but he manages, throwing it aside, forcing his pants to obey shaking fingers, kicking off shoes, toeing off socks, mouth sore and empty, skin burning from the traces of Lex's mouth. Lex, backing up step by step to the bed, Clark following like iron following a magnet and then Lex is on his back and Clark is finally touching everything.

His hands can't move fast enough, can't touch enough, spreading his fingers to feel more. Lex is murmuring things in his ear--encouragement and promises and snatches of some dead poet who probably had no idea he would one day be quoted as foreplay, but Clark's lost in sensation. Pale, pale skin, light sprinkles of freckles over shoulders and chest that Clark can draw lines between with the tip of his tongue. Restless hands on his back, Lex feeling him by inches, like he has to memorize everything he touches, every muscle and bone, invisible fingerprints pressed into his shoulders that Clark will never stop feeling, tangling in his hair and pulling him up to that addictive mouth. Lex rolls them on their sides and Clark slides a leg over Lex's hip, keeping them close, gasping at the brush of cock on cock, bare and frighteningly hot.

Like he could burn up if he's not careful, consumed in too many years of sublimated desire that's breaking them both. And he'll like it.

Lex's fingers on his chest, thumbs brushing nipples awake, thrusting against him and pushing him that much higher. It's like being drunk but better, and Clark hears himself laughing when Lex's tongue flicks across his ear, his chin, slicking down his throat like he's drawing lines to follow later. A shift down that makes Clark mutter protest, but teeth close over his nipple and he forgets how words work. How they sound. How to make his tongue do anything but curl up behind his teeth to stop the sounds he's making, low and needy and desperate.

On his back somehow and Lex goes down on him in one motion, arching his back and liquefying his spine.

"Lex--"

A low hum around his cock pushes his heels into the bed, scrambling for purchase, and his fingertips touch a silky scalp, sliding helplessly over the curve of skin and bone, he can't hurt Lex now, he can touch. Can arch and push up into that mouth, he doesn't have to be still, be careful, worry, because Lex can heal from anything and Clark can't hurt him anyway. And Lex fits against his palms, pressing against him, encouraging everything, you can do this, Clark, you can do anything you want.

Touch, hold on, push into that mouth harder and faster, but he wants something entirely different. Pulls Lex up and has to bite his lip to keep from coming just from the look on his face, the swollen red lips and eyes darkened to black.

"Lex, I want--"

"Anything you want." A kiss sucked into his inner thigh, quick tongue slicking his balls, hinting at a slide behind that forces out a gasp, but Clark pulls until Lex is covering him, smooth skin blanketing him, nipping at his lips. "Anything, any way you want it, Clark--"

Jesus. Shaking hands slide down Lex's back, digging into bone and muscle, as hard and he wants, and he *can't* hurt him.

"Fuck me." Like a normal person can, and he'll feel it. "Lex, I want you to fuck me."

Lex traces his face with one hand, fingers shaping to his cheek, breath panting out, and if it's possible, the blue eyes are even darker, pupil swallowing the iris until there's nothing but raw need. "Have you ever done that before?"

"No." Too many variables to consider. Clark couldn't imagine taking his experiments in sex that far.

"It'll hurt." More like a promise than a warning, and Lex levers himself up, slowly, like he can't quite make himself want to move faster. Reaching with one hand to the bedside table, pulling open a drawer, little tube landing by Clark's head, then he pulls back on both knees, staring down at Clark. "Spread your legs for me."

Clark sucks in a breath, complying, and Lex strokes his thighs. Eyes closing tightly for a second before they open again. Lex swallows hard. "It'll hurt, but you'll like it."

Clark swallows hard, nodding, and Lex reaches for the tube, then grins, bright and sharp. "How much have you done?"

"What, you want a list?" Clark's lucky he's getting out sentences at this point. Lex laughs, fingers slipping to his inner thighs, almost tickling the sensitive skin in a way that's making Clark shudder. "I'm not a virgin, if that's what you're asking."

"Imagine my relief." Another sharp grin, then both his thighs are lifted, pushed over Lex's shoulders, and Lex ducks his head. Entirely not what Clark had in mind, and he lifts up on both elbows.

"Lex--oh." A slow lick to that little patch of skin, too careful to make him come though it's a close, close thing. "Lex, I--"

"I noticed. I think you'll like this." Clark can barely hear the muffled words before--oh God. God, Lex's tongue. That clever, sharp, ruthlessly gentle tongue slicking across his hole, shocking Clark almost upright before he realizes that movement like that will stop the feeling. Collapsing back into the mattress, he feels Lex's chuckle before he's doing it again. Slower, now, so Clark can really feel it, and this is--really new. Completely unlike anything he's done to himself, but Lex has a better angle and, well, that tongue. That tongue that's even slower, making a lazy circle around before pushing just a little, and Clark tenses, can't help it. Forcing himself down, closing his fingers over the bedspread, strangely harsh compared to Lex's skin.

Then a push that sucks the air from Clark's lungs--that's Lex's tongue inside him, curling, pressing, licking, slow and steady, and Clark might not be breathing anymore. Might never want to breathe again if it results in this.

"Fuck."

That chuckle again, vibrating against hypersensitive skin, and warm thumbs open him, giving Lex access to do--oh God, more. Deeper, harder, thrusts and slow licks and twists that drive Clark's heels into Lex's back but he doesn't seem to notice.

Time loses meaning. Everything loses meaning that isn't centered in that place Lex is playing with, a perfectly ordinary area that's never hinted it could do things like this. Lex's tongue is in his ass like it's the most normal thing ever invented and Clark wonders vaguely, do people know about this? And why in the name of God aren't they doing it all the time?

He's twisting into it, every long lick and hard thrust, and this, he thinks a little vaguely, will be like having Lex's cock, maybe. Open and pushing and slick wetness and God, how is he doing it, coaxing sounds out of Clark's throat that aren't even possible. Whimpering, arching into it, more, please, he can feel sweat breaking out all over his body, and his cock aches, a pain so good he never wants it to stop.

He's begging now, he's sure of it.

Then something else--harder, Lex's finger, he's almost sure, and it hits something that wipes out even the memory of a life that doesn't include this. Clark chokes on air, grabbing for the sheets with both hands, and Lex's other hand closes over his cock, a rough, expert jack and Clark twists completely open, and fuck, he's screaming.

Screaming and moaning, coming so hard he can't see, can't hear anything but rushing sound. He can feel it everywhere, like every nerve is centered in his cock and ass, nipples and stomach and back and mouth, tingling, shocking, and Clark's not sure he's ever coming down. It goes on forever, his cock trapped in Lex's hand and his ass on Lex's tongue and nothing, nothing can be better than this.

Awareness comes back in slow fits and starts. Lex's hands smoothing over his chest, then the soothing warmth of fingers pressing inside him, a slow heat that tickles overheated nerves. Working him slowly, carefully, and he misses Lex's tongue but that mouth moves to his stomach, licking him clean, and Clark shudders at every lick.

"Clark." Soft and gentle, a hand on his face. "Come back to me here." Stroking his face, thumb across his mouth, and Clark sucks it in, running his tongue around the nail, almost smiling at the way Lex's breath catches. "Come on. I want you. I want you to be here for this."

Clark lets Lex pull his thumb away. "Here." Like Lex didn't just blow his mind, he opens his eyes, grinning. "You need something?"

Lex chuckles and brushes a kiss over his mouth. "Bastard." Then pulling back, arms behind his thighs, pushing them close to his chest. "Just relax. It'll only hurt for a second."

The blunt tip of Lex's cock pushes against him, and Clark breathes out, feeling Lex's eyes on him. Easing inside, stretching him open, and it's--wow, it's nothing like he expected. And Lex is so slow--God, Clark can't imagine what it takes to move like that, like he has all the time in the world when every muscle is tense, and Lex is biting his lip as he goes. A stretch that begins to burn, but Clark forces himself to relax, pulling his legs up close, trying to open up more, and Lex breathes out. "Almost there."

"Do it."

Lex shakes his head tightly. "You're not invulnerable anymore." A long stroke of his thighs, then Lex is working him open, pulling back a little to push again. Another inch, forcing a surprised gasp from Clark's throat, a sound from Lex that Clark's never heard before. "God, you're tight."

"Uh." Clark pulls his hands free of the sheet, reaching for Lex. Smooth shoulders to dig his fingers into, living flesh that twitches when he touches it, asking for more. "That's. Good?"

"Unbelievable." Another little thrust, opening him wider. The sharp burn fades a little as Lex pulls back, then Lex shifts, both hands on Clark's thighs. "Deep breath, Clark."

He has just enough time to do it before Lex thrusts--thrusts hard, pushing all the way inside, and it hurts, yes, God, yes, but he's still holding Lex's eyes even when he hisses, and he can feel the slap of Lex's balls against his ass. Completely filled, and Clark can't remember exactly what it was like not to be.

His cock twitches, making him wince a little--he's come twice in less than three hours, but apparently, Lex is good for all kinds of sexual inspiration and it's ready for another round. Lex, who holds completely still, waiting for him to adjust, and Clark squeezes his hands a little. "I'm okay."

Lex nods slowly, teeth freeing his lip, and Clark can see the blood. Can't help trying to reach him, and Lex shifts, Clark's thighs going around his waist, leaning forward for a kiss that tastes like copper and Clark and sex.

"Keep your legs here," Lex whispers, pulling out, and the next thrust makes Clark see stars. Sparks. Cock hardening against Lex's stomach, scraped with every thrust, and Clark pulls his knees up Lex's sides, heels pushing into his back. He's going to leave bruises on Lex and he wants to, every place he's touched. "You're so beautiful, Clark."

Clark's breath catches. "You're so weird."

"It's called sex talk. Enjoy it." Another slow thrust, like Lex is getting the feel of his body, and Lex groans softly. "It's the most honest anyone ever is."

Clark arches at the next slow, almost lazy thrust. Lex braces both hands on the bed, close enough to breathe him in, and Clark watches sweat form on his forehead, the way the dark eyes close briefly every time. "Why not in Smallville? When we were kids?"

"Shouldn't have told you about the honesty part," Lex murmurs, licking his temple. The next thrust is a little harder. "I--didn't think you were ready."

He was probably right, too, but Clark tries to imagine refusing Lex. Imagines just once, Lex had reached out and touched him, if he would have pulled away. Even then, he doesn't think he would have.

"I would have, you know," Clark hears himself say. Lex is right. It's impossible to lie like this. Impossible when Lex is inside him and surrounding him and brushing soft kisses over his forehead and his face.

"Couldn't risk it." Another thrust, making Clark's teeth clench together. His cock's hard, loving every brush against Lex's stomach, almost arching to meet it.

"Risk?" And when Lex opens his eyes, Clark catches his breath. "Lex--"

"You were everything." And it hits just with the next thrust, with Lex's groan, and Clark winds his arms tighter, trying to breathe normally, trying to remember what normal is, then forgetting it. Maybe trying to crawl inside Lex's skin and stay there, never have to come out again. "You are everything, Clark."

Jesus. Lex kisses him, slow and sweet and ruthless, consuming his mouth, and Lex murmurs words into his neck, his jaw, his ear. Things that erase years of hate and anger and make them meaningless, because now, now is this. Them. The words trickle off and Clark's shuddering, shivering when Lex thrusts into him harder, pushing them both toward orgasm, as inevitably as this moment must have been after all the time apart.

Like being taken apart and put back together, and Clark holds on tighter when he comes, a slow build that's like falling and flying and perfect happiness, shuddering and gasping, Lex's voice in his ear, Lex's cock in his body, and he'd do it all over again, everything, he'd have done anything, if he'd known this was possible.

Lex, slick with sweat, warm, touchable, curled up around him, would have been all the reason he'd ever have needed.


"I'm not engaged to Lois."

Lex, tracing the line of hair on Clark's lower stomach with every sign of fascination, glances up. "So I suppose I should revoke the contract on her life now?"

Snorting, Clark tries to stretch, wincing at the ache in muscles that aren't used to heavy activity, not to mention the burn in his ass that reminds him, yes, he's human all right. Rolling on his back isn't even an option.

"Where on earth did you hear that, anyway?" Clark asks as Lex tests the line with his tongue, smoothing the little hairs down, like some very sexy cat. Fingers are slowly stroking his hip still--Lex hasn't stopped touching him since they came down. Like he's trying to memorize everything, fingering Clark's bruises with gentle touches and little smiles that make Clark grin and hot at the same time.

"Contact at The Daily Planet."

"Your sources suck."

"So I'm beginning to think." A wet circle around his navel, then Lex slides back up the bed, kissing him lightly. Friendly kiss, like people do when they know each other so well it means everything and nothing at all. Settling beside him, Lex raises himself on an elbow, running curious fingers through his hair, and Clark sighs, arching into it. "Why would anyone think so?"

"Undercover thing a few months ago, fertility clinic. Went really, really badly," Clark answers, eyes still closed. "I really don't want to talk about Lois." Shifting closer, ignoring the twinges, Clark buries his nose in Lex's throat, licking softly at the skin. "You know, Perry is going to kill me."

"Oh, Perry's a much better subject," Lex remarks, and Clark grins as he lowers his head slowly back onto the pillow so Lex won't stop touching. "Quit your job. Move in with me. Let me tie you to the bed."

Strangely, the idea doesn't actually sound that bad. Clark snickers, reaching to run the palm of his hand down Lex's side. Silky skin he can't quite get enough of. He suspects he never will. "Get me a collar too?"

"Mm. Feed you regularly, fuck you daily, and you'll never need to buy clothes again. Which, considering your taste, would frankly be a relief to civilization." Warm lips brush his temple. "Are you hungry?"

"Is it feeding time?" Clark's stomach growls and Lex laughs. "Fine, yeah. Um, I should get dressed--" He really doesn't want to move. Even for food.

"Being rich has some great perks. One, food in bed. Two, people to cook it and bring it up. Don't move. Just--like that." Lex brushes Clark's hair out of his eyes, pushing himself up, looking over Clark's body with utter satisfaction. "You couldn't look more perfect if you tried."

Clark feels the blush, turning his head enough to stare into the pillow. A long stroke to his back and Lex moves, shifting for the phone. Right, call in for food. He could get used to this.

A few minutes of murmured conversation on the phone, and Clark turns enough to look out the window, watching the faint traces of the sun disappearing beneath the skyline, lighting up everything in yellow-orange and streaks of rich red. Breathtaking, even if he knows intellectually that smog is at least half the reason Metropolis is known for its spectacular sunsets.

Lex is settling back down beside him, distracting his attention, warm mouth trailing over his skin, followed with lazy swipes of his tongue. Clark catches his breath at the twitch of his cock. "Lex, um, I don't--"

"Shh." Urged onto his stomach, and Lex runs his hands over his back, lingering on his waist. "Relax."

"Right." But he's soothed by the slow strokes, the way Lex mouths his spine, slow and easy, like he's got all day to learn the curve of every bone, the texture of every inch of skin. Teeth brushing after, a tiny bite that makes Clark shudder, cock twitching more, God, it hurts but it's still so good.

"So where is she anyway? I expected her to be protecting your virtue at some point." Lex settles over him like a blanket, mouthing the back of his neck before slipping down beside him, absently pulling up the covers they turned down at some point.

"Interview thing. Have I ever told you how weird you two are?" Lifting himself up on his elbows, Clark gives Lex a long look. The smile isn't reassuring. "No, really. You're both weird. You have the worst public break-up in the history of Metropolis with not a detail in sight, and you both act like you'd dance on each other's grave. But Lois kills herself laughing at that fucking teddy bear and she's still the only one that has open creds at any and all LexCorp functions, public and private. Explain this to me."

Lex snickers. "Are we actually at the point in a relationship where we're comfortable discussing old lovers?"

Clark smiles, drawing both arms up to settle them beneath his head. "I've never slept with her, so that'd be only you. And I'm perfectly comfortable. Feel free."

"Why?"

Clark watches the play of emotion on Lex's face carefully. "Because I'm curious."

"You would be." Stroking through his hair again, fingers gently untangling knots, smoothing after. Clark lets his eyes fall closed. "We didn't break up because Lois had issues with my ethics, if that's what you're thinking. She had--at the time--no idea."

"Then what was it?" He is curious, but it's the kind that's almost masochistic. Tell me how close you were to being in a world where this day couldn't have happened, Lex.

"She didn't want to commit." Fingers move against Clark's scalp in an idle rhythm that could so easily put him to sleep.

Clark's eyes open. "You were--you were going to marry her?"

"Possibly would have been the third biggest mistake of my life, but yes. I wanted her to change to a LexCorp job and marry me. She didn't."

Yes, Clark could actually see this conversation taking a downslide with the very first hint of a job involving her significant other. Lois would never allow that. Proposing marriage--wow, had she even been in the same state before Lex got the words out?

But. "Why a mistake?"

Lex grins. "We fought a lot. About everything." The grin widens. "Dinner, dates, which apartment to sleep at, whether staying the night was acceptable, everything. Everything was a battle." Lex doesn't seem terribly upset by that. "I was used to people who would do anything I wanted, any way I wanted it. Lois was different. She made me work for what I wanted. She didn't like to be manipulated. She made me compromise. She made me want to compromise."

Clark nods slowly, ignoring the strange ache centered somewhere in his chest, the stupid ache that has no reason to exist. Nothing new--when Lois and Lex had still been seeing each other, he came to work every day feeling like that. But different now that he's--he's here.

It's stupid. "Are you still in love with her?"

"No." Lex says it so easily, so smoothly, that it can't be anything but true. Clark frowns.

"If I ask you next time you fuck me, will you give me the same answer?" No matter the state of his head, ass, or various protesting muscle groups, his cock's completely interested, pushing into the mattress, and Clark hisses. With a grin, Lex rolls on his back, groping until the tube appears under his hand. Like anything would disobey when Lex wanted it. Slicking his fingers, he looks at Clark.

"Fuck me and find out." One long thigh raising slowly, Lex slides his fingers tempting around the hole, staring into Clark's eyes.

"I've done this."

"With a guy?"

Clark's mouth goes dry, eyes fixing as Lex works a finger inside himself, flicking up to see the blue eyes glazing over, a slow flush spreading across the flawless skin.

"No, but you know, basics." Even to himself, his voice sounds--sexy. Rough, hoarse, thick. Completely understandable why Lex's smile fades, blue eyes darkening almost instantly. "Um. Lex." Another breath, then Clark pushes the petty barriers of flesh to the back of his mind, pulling up on hands and knees. Lex's cock is half-hard against his stomach. Leaning down, Clark licks a line from tip to base, bracing a hand on Lex's thigh at the first involuntary jerk. "I know this, too."

Lex makes a low, dark sound, like a purr. "Show me." Two fingers thrust inside him and Clark wraps his fingers around Lex's cock, letting the head slide easily into his mouth.

He does know this. Simple, slick tongue over tangy flesh, Lex shuddering and murmuring, fingers in his hair, urging him deeper, and Clark breathes through his nose and swallows, pulling his hand aside. Lips pressed to smooth, musky skin, and Lex says a few words that Clark supposes are supposed to mean something, but it's more like he forgot English and sentence structure, which is just fine. He swallows just to get that arch, then pulls back, shifting between Lex's legs and bracing both hands on Lex's hips.

He's always had to be careful, even here--too fast or too hard or hold too tight, can break bones like kindling, but this time--ah, this time, he can dig his fingers in and grip, suck hard, lose himself completely in taste and feel and sound. Meet every arch of Lex's hips, tease him with a brush of blunt teeth, hold him on the tip of his tongue so Lex can see and shiver, go back down smooth and easy.

Enjoy this, the way he's never enjoyed sex before, like anyone, any human can. Listen to Lex murmur his name coupled with endearments and curses and promises and believe it.

The fingers in his hair pull him off suddenly, and Clark grins, looking up.

"Inside me," Lex hisses, drawing up his legs, and Clark gets the lube instantly, slicking his cock. Almost shaking with it, all these first times coupled together, and he's dizzy and happy and utterly intoxicated. "Clark, please--"

He's wanted to hear Lex beg for years. Holding him over a volcano couldn't do it, but Clark's cock pressing lightly against his hole could. Laughing, Clark puts his shoulders under Lex's thighs and pushes, Lex arching hard, pulling him in.

In. Inside. No better word in the world.

Oh God, tight. Lex had it right, and he hears himself breathe it like a benediction, like a prayer, the slick heat clenched around him like it's fitting itself to him perfectly. Lex, shuddering, head back, throat on offer, and Clark flexible enough to lean, quick bite to the pulse of one artery.

Lex, who opens his eyes, sex-dark, intense, like the entire world is compressed into this moment, this second. "I'm not in love with her."

Clark sucks in a breath, then lets Lex's legs down, shocked breath like he's been running forever and never wants to stop. Lex, pushing himself up, Clark sits back on his heels, and Lex, on his lap, fucking himself on Clark's cock. Big hands in his hair, pulling his head up for a brutal kiss, and nothing can match this, nothing could ever compare. Like mainlining pure oxygen, he's heady and so hard he thinks he can fuck Lex forever, wants to, just to keep this, the taste of Lex, blood, sex, and he reaches down, fisting around Lex's cock, hard against his stomach. Fast, hard jack, whimpers and hisses filling the air, then Lex, shuddering and coming, clenching around him and it's too sexy, Lex fucking himself to orgasm on Clark, too impossible even for a fantasy, it has to be real, like the smell and the feel of slick skin and the bruises on Lex's skin from fingertips and mouth.

Coming forever, Lex's tongue in his mouth, and he's still shaking when they're tangled on the bed, wet and stick and Clark holds on and closes his eyes when Lex's arms go tight around him.

Like he'll never be let go again.

"Stay with me tonight." Whispered against his mouth, and Clark nods slowly. A slow, wet kiss, before Lex presses their foreheads together and goes boneless in Clark's arms. "Good."


The ringing--is a phone.

Clark blinks back to reality, opening his eyes on the warm disaster area he's currently inhabiting, the warm body pressed all around him like a cocoon.

"Phone, Lex."

Lex makes an unclassifiable sound that's probably negation, burrowing into Clark's shoulder, arm around his chest tightening.

"I--think its mine." At least, it seems to be coming from Clark's pants, and he stares very hard at them, wishing for a sudden bout of telekinesis to bring it across the room and into his lap.

"Not important."

Clark glances at the clock. It's--ten in the morning. How the fuck had that happened? It's hard to disengage himself--at least three quarters of his body doesn't see the point, the rest is only doing it with the promise he'll be right back, and he crawls off the bed, completely shocked by the way his legs buckle and the sudden screams of protest from every major muscle group.

Ah. This is why he should have listened to that three quarters. Behind him, he can hear Lex snickering.

"Lay down, Clark. I'll get your phone."

"Don't you dare answer it." It could be anyone. Chloe or Lois or--Dad. It has got to say sad, sad things about him that he's still scared of calls from his parents, fully into adulthood and all.

Lex is across the room before Clark has even managed to completely lower himself down on his stomach, head turning to watch Lex look at the number. The grin's--not good.

"Lex--"

He hits the button. "Luthor speaking. How can I help you, Lois?"

Oh Jesus. Clark buries his head in the pillow, listening to the pad of Lex crossing the room, a stutter as he steps over the trays from last night that had brought desperately needed refueling. Lowering himself down beside Clark, edging him over with a hip before stretching out. "Oh, Clark. Of course. Can I see if he's awake?"

"You're going to hell," Clark hisses, wondering if in lieu of firestarting eyes, his blushes will be the next wave in pyrotechnics. Lex grins and hands him the phone, rolling on his side to draw a proprietary hand down his back. Covering the mouthpiece, Clark tries out a look. "You know, she can't see you doing that."

"She's got a filthy mind. I'm sure she's got some idea what I'm doing to you." The strokes slow, becoming more petting, then Lex sits up, straddling his hips, strong hands on his shoulders. Oh God, that feels good. "Lois, Clark."

Lois? Fuck, Lois. Lifting the phone to his ear, Clark wonders if Lois can feel his blush all the way in Houston.

"Um. Hey. How did it go?"

The pause is really scary, before he hears a sound that scares him to death. Lois is snickering.

"Clark, my flight was late, they lost my baggage for six hours, and it was raining the entire time. My interviewee was a bitch of the first order and walked out on me halfway through. The hotel sent soggy pizza for room service last night. I ruined two pairs of extremely expensive shoes that are going to take me three paychecks to replace. Yet you have singlehandedly made this entire trip worthwhile. 'Lois, there is no sexual tension. Lois, it was never like that. Lois, why don't you trust me?'." The snickering becomes a full out laugh, and Clark forces his face into cool cotton, trying not to moan as Lex's hands work the too-tight muscles of his shoulders. Oh God, like his fantasy and nightmare combining on the astral plane. "I got some interesting information from some of my dad's friends, though." The edge in her voice makes Clark lift his head--she must have been frustrated if she was calling in on her father's friends. "You remember this LexCorp doctor we interviewed a little while back--"

"Yes." Clark tries to straighten, but a hand in the center of his back pushes him back down with no reluctance at all. "Yeah. I know him. When will you be home?"

"When are you going to be?"

Never? That would require moving, after all. "Um. I'll make you dinner." Lex presses sharp nails into his neck. "Early dinner. Like, say, six?" Is this what having a boyfriend is like?

"I'd hate to interfere with your sex life," Lois murmurs so blandly that Clark chokes. "Pick me up at the airport at five, okay? And you can tell me what made you sit up like that when I mentioned that doctor."

"Got it. Be careful."

"Always, Smallville. Have fun." Her snicker is the last thing he hears before she cuts out, and Clark stares at the phone for a few long minutes. "Okay, I'm missing something huge here between you two, but I'm not going to ask."

"The ways of your partner are mysterious," Lex agrees, kneading his lower back. "Call in sick to work."

Actually, he kind of has to. There's no possible way he'll be sitting in a normal chair all day. He knows his own limits, and having everyone at the Daily Planet watching him squirm and generally act more bizarre than usual just isn't something he can handle. Even if Lois was there. "Yeah." Punching in the number, Clark cranes his head. "I thought you had a job."

Lex smiles. "I'm taking a personal day." Climbing off him, Lex is on the floor light as a cat, like no, he hadn't spent the entire night in various kinds of acrobatic sex. "Join me in the shower when you're done."

Clark's horrified to feel his cock jerk hopefully at the low promise in Lex's words. He can't really help watching as Lex disappears into the bathroom, then stares down at his phone, pulling his mind from his cock and everything else that's happened, trying to concentrate.

Perry gives him a lot of leeway, he knows. Blanking the number out for now, Clark punches in Jimmy's and waits patiently. Voicemail, of course--he wonders if Jimmy is back yet and decides not.

"Jimmy, check something for me. I need you to cross-reference something for me while you're up there. Any recent discoveries coming out of any LexCorp business with any papers released by Dr. Cassius--I think the first name is Benjamin--and Dr. Rhinestadt. Send whatever you find via email. Bye." Now dial Perry and explain he's following some Very Important Leads for Lois and will be out most of the day. Sighing, Clark rolls on his side, vaguely surprised his back doesn't ache nearly as much as he expected it to.

"Clark?" Lex's voice is like a draw, making him sit up, giving himself another round of pain, but that's okay, because it's Lex. His legs are more steady now, or at least, acting like they might keep him upright, and he mutters his excuse to Perry while he's walking, barely aware of what he's saying, because there's steam coming under the door.

Hot, steamy bathroom with Lex in it. Absently, Clark turns off his phone and drops it on the floor, pushing open the door and walking inside. Instantly surrounded by hot, wet air, and Lex is only feet away, casually naked like it's just the most normal thing in the world.

"Done?" Lex asks, eyebrows raised, and Clark nods slowly. "Then come on."


He wonders if he looks different.

The airport's not too crowded, but enough for Clark to get jostled, and his body protests every time it happens. Security keeps eyeing him suspiciously, but he can't help twitching when he stands too long in any one position.

The plane would, of course, be late.

His cellphone's off--he'd checked his messages on the way to the airport, and the number waiting frankly scared him. The caller log wasn't comforting--Chloe, Pete, Mom and Dad, Daniel (oh fuck), a few college friends, and his next door neighbor Mrs. Dickson, who reads the tabloids like a religion.

He hasn't even looked at the Inquisitor yet. Frankly, he doesn't want to even think about it.

"Kent!"

Jerking his gaze up, Clark watches Lois appear from the door--somehow, uncreased despite a plane flight and two long days without her personal drycleaners. The dark hair is pulled back loosely, a few strands artistically tickling her cheeks, but her grin is huge and messy.

Tossing him her coat, she wraps an arm around his waist lightly, leaning close enough to stifle him with some heavy musk that clings to his nose. "You're making the careers of social columnists all over the country."

Great, just what he needs to hear. Taking her carry-on, Clark glances toward baggage claim. "You want--"

"Don't even bother. They're on the next flight. Don't ask. Just thank God I put everything I needed in my carry-on. Come on."

Outside, she nods in approval at her car. "Washed. Nice. So, business or personal?"

"You mean I have a choice?"

Lois snickers as she slides into the driver's seat, obviously looking around for signs of--"Lois!"

"Be good. Seatbelt on. I have information, but it's on my laptop. Spill. At least, what I can't guess."

Sighing, Clark closes the trunk and circles, sliding into the passenger seat as she revvs the engine. "We're dating. Happy?"

"So that's what you're calling it?" A merry wink before her foot drops on the gas pedal, hitting sixty almost before they leave the parking lot. Luckily, Clark's used to maniac drivers and simply closes his eyes, belatedly aware that if there's an accident this time, he's pretty much going to die. Dammit.

"Cassius," he says, giving her a quick look, and forces down a grin when he sees the eyebrows slide up.

"Okay, so business. Tell me."

"Lex wanted me examined--" Lois snicker makes him flush. "Shut up. Human. Immunization. Stuff like that."

"Good idea. I wouldn't have thought of that. Keep going."

"He's a kryptonite mutant, dated from first impact." Leaning back in the seat, Clark closes his eyes, refusing to watch them enter the highway. Just too stressing. "He's head of medical services for LexCorp."

"That we know."

"He also heads up the facility where Lex has been keeping other Smallville mutants."

"Jesus Christ." With a quick flick of her wrist, Lois plunges into the next lane, and Clark breathes out sharply. "He told you that?"

"I'm pretty sure he know who I was," Clark answers, closing his eyes again. He'll be better able to concentrate if he isn't pretty sure he's going to die. "He's been working with them--Cassius says to cure them. Since he is a geneticist--"

"Yes, he'd have the creds. Hmm." Leaning an arm on the window, Lois surveys the highway like her own personal driving range. "He and Rhinestadt have been meeting a lot more than a geneticist and a theoretical astrophysicist should under normal circumstances. Even ones employed by LexCorp. Some email here, some letters there--"

"How'd you find out--"

"Dad's old Marine buddies. One's a pilot for NASA, the other's--not." The corner of her mouth twists. "Dad, of course, acted like I'd just asked to sell the country out to the Nazis, but he did say that Rhinestadt's been a very busy man the last year or two. Nearly disappeared, in fact, between LexCorp and NASA."

Clark catches the tail end of something like frustration. "He's liaison, isn't he?"

Lois sighs softly. "That would explain a lot. His clearance, by the way, is higher than Dad's. Than, in fact, anyone I could get to talk to me." Her pause is thoughtful. "Lots of equipment being moved around, very carefully. I know shuttles and computer systems, and I can recognize most disassembled weapons on sight, Smallville. None of what I saw being moved looked anything like that." Her mouth tightens. "But I saw the people moving it, and ten to one they're LexCorp employees."

Leaning back in his seat, Clark considers. "So there's a meteor shower--and you didn't get anything out of Rhinestadt?"

"A lesson in Einstein's relativity and how commoners just didn't understand it, along with some grandstanding about his education and impeccable background. He shut up when I asked about his LexCorp contract. So working theory--they're worried about the meteor shower. Enough to contact LexCorp and set up something. I guess get hold of Luthor's weapons or something. The thing is--why aren't they moving this stuff to the space station? I know they have weapons capability up there--it'd be smarter to shoot from space. No atmospheric problems, better sight."

"How do you know they aren't?"

"If they are, it's nowhere in Atlanta or Houston." Lois tosses him a grin that makes him wish she'd keep her eyes on the road. They're going very fast. "I checked every log and had Jimmy ask around in Atlanta. Very long day." Straightening in the seat, Lois leans a hand on her elbow, glancing through traffic like she would a collection of Ralph Charity sweaters. "Nothing not logged already. Nothing unusual in the cargo. And the stuff I saw would be unusual."

Nodding, Clark lets his eyes open briefly. Oh good, they're exiting into his neighborhood. Survived again.

"So--they're worried about the meteor shower. LexCorp would be interested, since it specializes in meteor rock experimentation, whether they admit it or not." With a quick turn, Lois speeds into the parking lot of Clark's apartment complex, spinning to a stop beside his old Ford. "You need a new car."

"After I pay off that damn suit," Clark grumbles, undoing the seatbelt and getting out. God, better. Staying in one position too long just hurts. Seeing Lois' grin, Clark flushes again. "Okay, I asked Jimmy--"

"Yeah, he told me. He's staying an extra couple of days, has some friends from MIT in town he'll get drunk and talk to, a couple who are pretty close to Rhinestadt in academic circles. Scientists are easy marks." Grinning, Lois locks her car and circles around to the trunk, opening it up and taking out her bag and coat. Grinning at him over the trunk, Lois tilts her head. "What's Cassius' thing?"

Clark considers. "He knows when you're sick."

The smile fades. "Jesus." Shaking her head, she slams the trunk closed, and Clark follows her to the stairs. Third floor, corner that views the skyline pretty well. Clark keys them both in, deadbolting behind. "Has Luthor bugged you yet?"

Clark grins. "Not yet. I checked when I came home to change. My phone might be tapped, though."

Lois snorts. "Good to know his MO with new lovers hasn't changed." Tossing her bag on the smaller couch, she kicks off her shoes, stretching out slowly. "God, I hate flying. Okay, so. How was Luthor?"

Clark stumbles as he walks into the tiny kitchen, half turning to watch the dark eyes fix on him with unmistakable intent.

"I'm not telling--"

"I have, I do, and you love it. Spill."

He can't help grinning. Going to the refrigerator, he gets out two bottles of water, walking back over to the couch and lifting her feet to sit down. Handing her a bottle, he turns her right foot and gently begins to massage the arch. The sound she makes is--really hot.

"We had a good time." Clark rubs his thumb into the arch again, watching her eyes glaze slightly, pushing her foot harder into his hands. "We had lunch, doctor's appointment, sex. You know him."

"I know him," she agrees. "But considering he took weeks to get around to letting me anywhere near the penthouse after we started dating--probably to make sure nothing incriminating was lying about--I'd love to know why I woke you up this morning there."

"How do you know I was there?"

Lois makes a bland sweep of the living room. "When I called you earlier, you didn't say you were at home." Another sharp grin, then she pushes her foot into his unmoving hand and twists the cap off the bottle. "More. My feet hurt."

"Right." Going back to work, Clark leans into the worn cushions of his couch, wondering what to tell her. "We had fun."

"You got laid."

"Very." Oh God, very. Shaking his head a little, Clark runs his thumb down to her heel, then back up to the pad of her foot, gently massaging. "Have you ever--have you ever had one of those nights where everything went exactly like you always dreamed? Like--like someone hot-wired themselves into your fantasy life and did everything, told you everything you ever wanted to hear?"

"My nightmares? Yes. But never my fantasy life." But she levered herself up pushing another cushion behind her back. "Clark--"

"I asked about you and him, okay?"

"Oh." Clark tries to check her expression, but she's doing that perfect mask again, the one like Lex's, the one that makes him remember again that, like Lex, her childhood hadn't been that great. They have, he thinks, a lot in common in their problems with their fathers. "What did you want to know? I would have told you, Clark."

Clark shrugs. "I--don't know."

"Still jealous? After all this time?"

Jerking his gaze around, Clark fixes on the impossibly dark eyes. No smile, nothing, just calm acceptance. "I wasn't--"

"Clark. I didn't get to be the best reporter in Metropolis, if not the country, by not paying attention." Making a soft noise, she takes a drink of water, gazing thoughtfully into the bottle as if it has all the world's best secrets ready for publishing. "After you became my partner, Lex wouldn't come to the newspaper anymore."

"I--didn't know that."

"He thought I didn't notice either." Shrugging, she takes another drink. "I asked you and you said there was nothing between you."

"There wasn't."

"Funny, he said the same thing." Putting the half-empty bottle of water down, Lois folds her hands on her stomach. "Ask me what you asked him."

"Why did you break up?"

"Because Lex wanted everything. Wants everything." It's the first time he remembers her using his name. "Because somewhere in his head is this idea of what his life should be, and I couldn't fit into that. And when I knew I couldn't, I had to leave."

"Were you in love with him?"

"Yes."

Taking a deep breath, Clark looks down at the foot resting innocently in his lap. Lois, his best friend, confidante, former enabler of Superman, mentor. Lex's ex. His life's never going to be simple. "It's not--"

"Do you remember the day we met?"

Clark jerks his head up, but Lois is examining her nail polish for flaws. "Yes. Why?"

"We argued and then you went off and got the Superman interview just to spite me." Her eyes dance when she looks up. "When Lex saw me at dinner, he laughed himself sick. Scared the waiter to death. Do you know what he told me?"

"I'm scared to ask."

"Learn to share." Grinning, she leans back into the cushions, watching his face.

Clark runs his fingertips absently over the tops of her feet, shaking his head sharply. "He--I never told him. About Superman. He figured it out--I don't know when--"

"About a month before we broke up," Lois says, like he should know this. Clark blinks, staring at her. "If I were guessing Lex's motivations for the sudden and inexplicable need to have me change jobs and get married when we'd barely negotiated when we'd be sleeping over and where." Flicking a nail at him, Lois smiles, but it fades slowly, seriously.

"What?"

"You were still at MetU when Lex and I started dating, so you probably don't remember a lot of the media frenzy. It's going to get worse for you, what with the guy thing. Frankly, I'm surprised he's being so open about it, especially with the senatorial races approaching. Third party candidacy is always a long shot, even with his money and popularity." Running her nails across the back of the couch, Lois considers. "You remember how careful he was with his last wife, right?" Clark nods. Not even a hint until the wedding was announced. "You're an investigative reporter, not a society reporter, so this is going to go a little differently than what you're used to. I've worked every department at least once, so lets cover this now. No interviews, I don't care what they promise, Clark. You're a Daily Planet reporter, my partner, and Lex Luthor's new interest. Those three things guarantee they'll be looking for shit on you. Do not comment on anything they say. Lex can handle photographers well enough, but he can't watch you twenty-four seven, though God knows, he tried with me." Snorting, Lois waves a hand at the futility of anyone thinking she couldn't handle herself. Clark has to agree. "In any case, you've been on the writing side, not the written-on side." Lois snickers. "You're going to hate reporters soon."

Clark laughed softly. "I can handle myself."

"I know." Her smile fades again. "I just want you ready. The Inquisitor follows Luthor like a vengeful ex-girlfriend, and with just that level of friendliness. Chloe's not going to talk, but anything she's said to Daniel about you is fair game. He has the ethics of a hungry shark and even less tact." Tapping a nail thoughtfully into the cushion, Lois frowns. "Normally, I'd say let Chloe do one interview to start things off--something positive and friendly, but--I don't think it's a good idea right now." Clark makes a mental note to ask her why later. "Lex's staff is incorruptible--we both know that--but your neighbors, friends, anyone else...." She leaves off with a long look, meaning plain.

"I can handle this."

"I know. I just wish Lex didn't show such uncharacteristic openness this fast. I had a few weeks to get used to the idea of being stalked before everything went public. Where are you going tonight?"

"Opera." Clark barely flushes. "Mom went to school with one of the sopranos or something and Lex thought I'd like to meet her while she's in town."

"You need a tuxedo." Lois, always ready with clothing advice.

"Lex ordered me one. It's supposed to be delivered here. Hopefully after the pizza." Clark grins as she pushes a heel into his thigh and starts rubbing her left foot again.

"So you out tonight?"

Now he blushes and Lois laughs. "I'll take that as a yes. My apartment was fumigated while I was gone. You care if I crash here?"

"Go ahead." Clark frowns a little. "Jimmy said he'd email--"

"I broke your passwords years ago. I'll check and see what comes up. Did you get the analysis back from the Fortress on Rhinestadt?"

Clark blinks in surprise. "Yeah, but I haven't done much more than skim it. Just basically, yeah, he's nervous, yeah, he's leaving something out, and he was sweating more than the average human of his size and fat to muscle ratio." Sighing, Clark slumps into the couch. "I wish I'd taught it to be more user friendly. You're welcome to chat with it. I sent the coordinates of the meteor shower, and it's been watching its approach, though the stuff isn't in range yet. Too much interference or something for anything other than there are a lot of big rocks."

Lois nods slowly, relaxing into the couch.

"If it's just to avoid panic--" Lois says softly, and Clark's head comes up sharply. She has that line between her brows, and she's fingering her bracelet. "I can get why they're not public if they're worried about another Smallville situation, but--"

"But?" He rubs his thumb into her arch meaningfully and gets a little kick in response.

"But. I'm thinking. I don't know. Cassius, who comes on board to head up LexCorp's medical staff, what--"

"Two years ago." Clark watches her straighten.

"Around the same time as Rhinestadt?" The dark eyes light up. "One doctor with a background in genetics who specializes in meteor mutants and runs Luthor's lab. One astrophysicist with a thing for wanting to know all about Superman." Lois' eyes glaze over. "Do you think Luthor's sharing the meteor mutant information with the government? What could happen if it is more Kryptonite that's going to hit?" The dark eyes narrow. "Or how to deliberately get--"

"Get useful mutations. Interesting ones." Human experimentation, Clark's worst nightmare in two simple words. He lets a breath out, falling into the couch again, Lois' feet forgotten. Lex said--but right, this is Lex, ambitious beyond words and not exactly moral in any sense Clark's ever heard of. "Lois--" It catches on the back of his throat, words he can't say, and his stomach turns over. He doesn't want to think. Lex wouldn't-- "Lois--no."

Lois looks up, wary. "Smallville--"

"No. Lex is one. So is Cassius. He wouldn't risk himself like that, and Cassius sure as hell wouldn't--" Clark watches Lois' expression turn thoughtful. "I'm betting that the government still doesn't know about the effects on Smallville. Lex did a pretty thorough clean-up the second he had enough resources and somewhere to store it. We would have heard about investigations in Smallville, disappearances. Nothing." Lex wouldn't let that information out at the most basic mercenary level--that's his edge, or one of them. He wouldn't risk it.

Lois nods slowly, lifting a thumbnail to chew absently, a long-broken childhood habit. She only does that when she's thinking hard. She's too proud of her nails otherwise. "But this isn't a coincidence, Clark." Straightening, the stockinged feet are pulled free of his lap. "Okay, your black shoes, the ones I got you from Saks? Those for tonight. Bring them here and let me make sure they look okay. God alone knows what you do to your clothes."

Lois switches mood like no one's business. He's not fooled. Somewhere in her mind is a huge game of connect the dots going on. She'll be glad when he's gone so she can concentrate, Clark thinks with a grin.

"My wallet's on the counter," Clark says. "Pizza should be here any minute. I'd better shower."

She waves a hand absently, reaching for her carry-on and unzipping it, pulling out her laptop. He watches her turn it on, already pulling up notes. "Run along. I want to go over a few more things before you go. Hurry."

"Aye aye, Captain." He laughs at her smirk and stretches, wondering if those shoes are still okay. They'd had a run in with a muddy field in Smallville a while back. With a little sigh, Clark pushes open his bedroom door and wonders what the opera will be like.


Lex hands Clark the tiny pair of--opera glasses.

"To see with," he explains, turning them carefully. "Otherwise, all you'll get is sound. Which is nice, but the woman you're looking for is going to be doing a solo and you might want to actually know what she looks like before dinner."

Clark nods, letting Lex show him how to hold them, vaguely aware that in the other boxes, people are watching. Behind them in the shadows, Mercy, flawless and frighteningly beautiful in dark purple, is polishing her gun with a lot of enthusiasm. Hope's standing just outside, tiny headset in one ear, while Lex's people take up key positions for watching out for sudden, random assassinations.

Clark thinks the opera would be a good place to do it, too. Lots of people, easy clear shots, and huge amounts of noise.

Lex is slouching into his chair, already bored. A bored Lex is a very scary Lex.

"You hate Carmen." Frankly, Clark's impressed he remembers the name.

"I hate the opera, symphony, name anything where you have to sit still three hours straight, and I'll wish for my own death." Lex flashes him a brilliant smile. The box doesn't seem quite so dark. "However, deals are negotiated everywhere and anywhere."

"Business." Right, because even recreation is business.

"Politics, too. Cassius told me you didn't pick up your results yet."

Clark puts down the tiny glasses, giving Lex a look. "Did you ask him what they said?"

"He's very into his entire doctor/patient confidentiality thing." Lex sounds both amused and frustrated. "But he said to tell you to pick them up, one, and two, not to worry, so I assume you aren't dying of anything."

"That's nice." So Clark's a coward sometimes. Needles and test results. Sighing, he leans back into the heavy leather chair, replaying the moment Lex had walked into his apartment and saw Lois. Quick flash--uncomfortable as hell in a way, amusing in another. Right, maybe not in love, but definitely something.

Maybe you never quite get over some old lovers, especially the ones you wanted to marry. Slumping a little, Clark tries to focus on the stage. Damn bad human eyesight.

Warm fingers close over his hand, and Clark looks up to see Lex watching him. "What?"

"Nothing." No smile, but the blue eyes darken. "Just wondering how visible this booth is to the rest of the place." The slow lift of one side of Lex's mouth makes Clark shiver, sweat breaking out on the back of his neck. Looking away, he fixes his gaze on the stage before his pants get tight.

The soft sound of a chair moving tells him Lex has shifted closer, the elegant fingers lacing through his. "Chloe's watching us." Lex sounds amused.

Clark tries to scan discreetly, but well, human eyesight. Sucks. Fuck. Lex leans to murmur in his ear, "Two o'clock, sitting with the editor of the Inquisitor, his wife, and her brother."

"Why--" Clark turns his head, and they're close enough to kiss. It takes everything in him not to do just that.

"Why do you think?" Lex grins, then does what Clark couldn't quite, brushing a kiss across his mouth before settling back. "You haven't talked to her yet?"

Clark grimaces. "Lois took my cellphone and said to worry about it tomorrow."

"Smart woman. There's Daniel. Ah, and look, he's with the mayor's daughter." Lex matches the wave, shaking his head. "He'll never be in Lois' class. Too blatant. Smile, Clark. Your picture is being taken."

"Am I blushing?" He can feel the heat in his cheeks, and it's not helping that Lex's thumb has started a suggestive rhythm in the center of his palm. Achingly slow circles, punctuated with a gentle press into the center, reminding Clark--

"Yes. Very prettily, too." Lex is laughing quietly. "Did Lois warn you?"

"Yes." Forcing his face to remain pleasant, Clark turns enough to see Lex's eyes. "I can take care of myself. I am a reporter, Lex. I'm sort of aware of how this goes."

"You're an investigative reporter. There's a difference between being asked, are you responsible for the latest radioactive spill in the Caribbean and being asked, does Luthor like to be on top or on bottom."

Okay, full blush time. "Jesus. How the hell did Lois handle it?"

Lex chuckles. "Dislocated jaw and two broken fingers."

"The reporter that asked?"

"Yes."

Clark can see it. Grinning a little, Clark surveys the room again. "How much security do you usually have?"

"This is higher than usual." Lex sounds slightly distant, like he's thinking about something else all of a sudden. "I didn't want this to be too bad for you."

Hmm. That's not all, though Clark thinks it's part of it, which is both warming and a little disturbing.

"Are you going to assign me bodyguards?"

Lex flashes a quick grin. "You won't know if I do."

Great. "What else do I have to look forward to?"

"Intermissions. People will come here. Chloe most likely as well. Take her down for champagne and have a talk with her if you want. Mercy's been assigned to watch you, so if anything goes badly--"

"She's my friend!" Clark hears the squeak in his voice and shuts his mouth tight. Lex gives him an amused look.

"Yes, she is, and her first instinct will be to protect you. From me, from anyone else. Her second instinct will be to get the story. She's in a bad place, personally and professionally. Lois doesn't cover this kind of crap, so she doesn't have the conflict of interest that Chloe's got as the Inquisitor's best reporter. But I'll bet you Lois called Chloe and gave warning to play carefully tonight." Lex leans back into his chair again, scanning the other boxes.

"She's got someone at The Daily Planet."

"Chloe's got someone everywhere." Lex's fingers tighten in his. "Lois told you no interviews, nothing on the record?"

"Yes." Clark frowns a little. "I don't--Lex, you're running for office--"

"Yes." Supremely unconcerned. So very not-Lex that Clark has to think how to approach this.

"You don't think, in Kansas, not exactly known for its support of political aspirants having anything resembling a sex life, it might have been smarter to be more discreet? What with the fact you just divorced your wife and a day later, you've already--"

"Yes and no." Lex frowns. "I can run again, if it comes to that, but I can't lose in Metropolis, and as for the rest of the state--" Lex shrugs. "LexCorp employs millions all over the world. The current incumbent has managed to fuck up their chances with the last session of Congress and that farming bill and he's too conservative for the current political climate attitudes." Okay, that's interesting. "Unless I'm found guilty of the murder of a hospital of orphaned babies, I really don't think I'll have any problems."

See, these are the moments Clark wonders about Lex's sanity.

"What about the presidency?" Like he doesn't know Lex's greatest ambition. It's nothing less than shocking that Lex shrugs.

"That's years away. By then they'll be used to you."

*By then they'll be used to you.*

Something in Clark tightens instinctively, warm and frightening and a little dizzying, like looking down from the balcony at his apartment these days. "Lex--"

"Shh. It's starting." He's right, the lights are dropping and things are going on down near the stage. Picking up his opera glasses with his free hand, Clark tries to concentrate.


Lex is right about the intermissions. He's introduced to more people than he knew existed, and after this many years as a reporter, that's saying something. Lex's hand on his back is both grounding and somewhat disconcerting--this is Lex, guardian of his personal privacy to a truly obsessive degree, making no secret of the fact that only days after his divorce, he's dating.

Dating, by the way, a male. Reporter.

It's almost a relief when Chloe appears, pretty and sharp in silver silk, watching him from behind completely unreadable blue eyes. Lex leans over almost immediately.

"Go take her for a walk, Clark. Just be back here before the curtains open. Mercy will lead you back if you get lost."

Nodding, Clark slips away, the people parting magically before him--Mercy's good for that--and Clark takes Chloe's arm, painfully aware of all the eyes watching him as they go down the narrow hall. She's quiet until they're down at the lobby, and Clark takes a glass of champagne from a waiter with something like desperation, handing it over to Chloe before taking one himself.

He's going to need it, he thinks.

The blue eyes narrow as they glance around, then she pulls him toward a corner. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Clark?"

So many flippant responses, so many ways to get his toes broken by her very elegant heels. Taking a drink, Clark tries to think.

"I'm dating." Yes, that sounds--completely ridiculous. "You said I needed a life, after all." Right, turning this on her will work. Sure thing.

If possible, her mouth tightens even more. "Cut the crap, Clark. You know exactly what I mean. One minute, you're doing exposes for The Daily Planet, the next, you're fucking the subject of them?" Taking another drink, her eyes scan around behind him and instantly, she plasters on a bright smile. They're being watched. Got it. Dropping her voice even more, she continues. "Clark, what happened with you and Lois?"

"Nothing. Nothing ever happened, and God, what, do you and Lex have the same idiot working for you at the Planet or something?" God, Mom might have heard that rumor. He won't think about that now, though it puts a new reflection on her latest phone calls that he's been avoiding. "Look, Chloe--"

"You're dating a man--"

"I know exactly what I'm doing."

Taking a drink, Chloe's smile widens even further, revealing perfect dentistry. Clark breathes out, so glad he's not strong enough anymore to accidentally break the fine crystal currently clutched in his hand.

"You're compromising yourself as a reporter," she says very carefully, obviously going for another spot. A pretty good one, too. "Clark, everything you write from now on is suspect--"

"So I don't do any more exposes related to LexCorp. Believe it or not, news is made by other companies and organizations. I'm not going to be out of work or anything."

"Lois is compromised--"

"Oh please. Lois broke up with him--if anything, her integrity is above reproach just on that fact. My professional life and public life are separate, Chloe." Wouldn't Lois have said something? Clark shifts uncomfortably, taking another drink.

"This is a mistake and you know it, Clark. Daniel hasn't slept since that oh so fucking conspicuous little lunch date you two had yesterday." Clark flushes, but by the look on her face, she's not aware of the less conspicuous alley thing. "Your mom's called me four times to find out what on earth is going on. They've taken their phone off the hook, so you'll have to call on their cell phone. Do you have any idea--"

"You didn't notice I grew up, did you?"

Chloe snorts. "Not visibly." Her eyes fix on his collar suddenly. "I got an exclusive with Lex's ex-wife."

Clark's breath catches.

"Chloe--"

"If I don't run it, I'll be tainted, Clark. My editor is on my ass to get the first interview with you before Lois gets it--"

"She's investigative--"

"Yes, this is beneath her, I know the litany." Chloe's smile fades briefly before she replaces it. "Heads up, friend to friend. The former Mrs. Luthor is considering naming you as the reason her marriage fell apart. Now do you understand how serious this is?"

Clark really needs more champagne. Looking briefly at his empty glass, he glances around, waving over a waiter. Chloe takes one, too, and they sip and stare at the floor.

"How bad?"

"Bad enough. She's angry, Clark. Lex filed for divorce and pushed it through so fast she barely had time to wonder what the fuck was happening before the judge signed the order. Lex didn't even fight the prenup agreement, and he fought it the time before straight through the courts. Of course, Linda had the adultery thing, but--do you know how this looks?"

"Like he was getting rid of her."

"Yes. For you. How the fuck he got through all the red tape I have no idea, and how that judge thinks that blatant currying favor is going to help win re-election, even with all the money Lex probably paid him...." Chloe trails off, looking at the floor again. "Luthor's very good with his public image. If I didn't know better, I'd think he's slipping. This is going to be damaging as hell."

Clark takes a deep breath.

"You know what he is, Clark. Of all people--"

"I know." He really does, stuff that Chloe doesn't even know. So much. Finishing his glass, Clark spots Mercy coming toward them and takes Chloe's glass, handing both to a passing waiter. "Come on, I'll walk you back to your seat. Curtain--"

"Don't." She pulls away from his hand so fast Clark almost stumbles. "Daniel's over there and he's hoping for just that opportunity. You know what to do--"

"No comments, no interviews. Got it."

"Good." Stepping close, both arms go around him, sweet smelling Chloe with a hint of smoke and the thick musk of too many bodies in close confinement. "Be careful."

"I will."

"All right." She pauses, stepping back, suddenly uncertain. Something hardens as he watches. "Tell Lex the story runs tomorrow morning. He'd better have something good to counter it." With another bright smile, she walks away, stopping briefly at this group or another to chat, and Clark takes a breath, letting Mercy slide her arm through his. Deceptively fragile, but she's faster than anyone he's ever seen. Except Superman, of course, who doesn't exist. Now murmuring into her headset, hidden by the folds of hair and dress.

Lex looks--tense. Very tense, and Clark gets a glimpse of something like rage before he sees Clark. Nodding sharply at Mercy, Lex extricates himself from conversation as the first dim of the lights makes it clear it's time to get back to your seat. Lex's hand closes over his wrist as he talks, before turning away, eyes going all around the building before he settles back in his chair, pulling Clark down with him.

Hmm. Their chairs are very close together.

"Something wrong?" Clark asks lightly.

"I could ask you the same thing."

Tell Lex, she said. "An interview with your ex-wife is running tomorrow." Lex says something that's definitely not English or polite. "Senators' daughters take it personally when they're divorced without explanation."

"There's reason," Lex answers, mouth tightening. "Clever girl. Chloe did the interview?"

"Yes."

Lex's hand slides over his wrist, losing the death grip, becoming more absently caressing. "I'll handle it."

"There's no way you can pay off the editor for this one."

Lex laughs. "You're right about that. This will sell them out. No, I--" Lex shakes his head. "Fuck it. If she gets off playing victim, that's fine."

Clark takes a breath, about to mention the rest, but--no. There's no way she can prove anything about Clark being around to cause her marriage to fall apart--hell, Clark had been in the Arctic, staring at gold kryptonite when Lex had first filed the divorce papers. Settling back, Clark turns his hand over enough for Lex's fingers to skate across the palm, shivering a little at the feeling.

"How much longer?" he says quietly, and Lex gives him a slow, sleepy smile.

"I'll make it worth the wait."

Clark feels himself flush at the promise.


There's a chance he could be drunk.

More champagne at the opera. After that talk with Chloe, he'd needed it. But he'd forgotten, somehow, that with invulnerability went most of his resistance to alcohol. Dinner's at someone's house--a reception, Lex told him, for the cast, given by the governor's sister. Aperitifs, wine, and some sweet liqueur after capture his entire attention, and he knows he's talking too fast and laughing too loudly, but no one seems to mind.

Knows he's touching Lex way too much, just brushes against his shoulder or back or hand. On his thigh at dinner, making Lex smile over his wine and give him heated looks, and God, when Lex had pulled him into the hall after dinner, kissed him with the taste of red wine and smoke coating his mouth, Clark had--pretty much lost the battle against his libido.

He can barely remember meeting Elisa something or other, the woman who knew his mom, but then again, he can remember Lex murmuring in his ear that she was watching his ass when he went to the bathroom. Remembers sitting down on the arm of Lex's chair in this huge, dark den after dinner, fascinated by the thick, springy leather beneath him, and Lex playing with his fingers while someone was talking.

Remembers Lex's hand in his, leading him to the limo, and the casual goodbyes.

Which led to--now. Now, with Lex warm and willing under him, jacket unbuttoned, sucking on Clark's tongue and hands under his shirt, arching against him with every thrust of his hips. Clark doesn't even care that Mercy's sitting back here with them.

So yeah, he's very drunk.

Sitting up, Clark braces himself on both hands, panting softly. Lex, mouth swollen, face flushed, watches him with hungry fascination.

"You've never been drunk, have you?" murmurs Lex, drawing his nails down Clark's back.

Clark hears himself make a sound disturbingly like a giggle. "Tried, in college. Didn't last very long. And--not like this." Leaning down again, he brushes a kiss across the full lips, tasting Lex's tongue eagerly. Slim fingers tangle in his hair, pulling him closer, one of Lex's legs sliding around his.

Everything feels different when he's drunk. The fabric of Lex's tuxedo coat is rough and thready, catching interestingly on the pads of his fingers, but the shirt beneath is pure silk that flows over his hands like water. Nothing on Lex's skin, though, everywhere his mouth can touch, so silky-smooth his lips slide over it effortlessly. Lex keeps making these sounds, small and helpless and sweet, every time Clark bites.

"I made a terrible impression, didn't I?" Clark whispers, untucking Lex's shirt and getting his hands underneath.

"Perfect," Lex whispers. "You were perfect."

"Goofy," Clark mumbles against the wet flesh of Lex's throat. "Hick."

"Gorgeous. Untouchable. Mine." And like that, he's on his back, Lex straddling his thighs, cock to cock. Rocking into him deliberately, expertly unfastening bow tie and collars, biting the bruises from the night before.

"Lex." His voice is shaking. He can't possibly be this hard this fast. It's against the laws of man and god, has to be. One hard kiss, a thrust of his tongue, and Lex pushes himself off, falling back to the seat with a deep breath. Damn. Clark forces himself to sit up, but Lex only pulls him gently back down until Clark's head is in his lap, long fingers stroking through his hair.

"You're going to be so sick," Lex murmurs. "Just wait until I can get some water into you."

Oh damn, another less than fun side effect. Sighing, Clark nods, enjoying the rasp of the material against his cheek.. Rubbing against it, feeling kind of like a cat. He's getting why animals do this so often against furniture and trash cans.

"...anything to report?" Lex is saying.

"No disturbances, sir."

"Lex."

"Lex." Mercy doesn't sound comfortable saying it. Clark closes his eyes, letting the dizziness slide over him like a warm blanket. Wonderful. He should definitely do this more often. "Is there anything else, Lex?"

"Tell me when we get home." A slow ruffle of Clark's hair follows, affectionate and soothing. Clark burrows closer. "It would be a lot more convenient if you lived with me, you know," Lex says to him softly, tracing his ear with one finger.

Clark grins and rolls on his back, staring up at Lex. "Okay, now you're freaking me out, and I don't have commitment issues. Lex, what is with you?"

Lex smiles his most blinding smile. "Clark. I like to move fast when I find something I want."

"There's fast and then there's the speed of light." Clark catches Lex's hand, drawing it to his mouth, licking the closest finger. Lex tenses wonderfully.

"I'm making up for lost time," Lex murmurs, leaning down to brush a kiss against Clark's forehead. "You have no tolerance for alcohol, do you?"

"None at all." Sitting up, Clark scoots backwards into Lex's lap, stopping his next words with a kiss. "I want you."

"I want to make sure you don't pass out on me tonight," Lex murmurs, but his hand is sliding in Clark's shirt again, flattening against his stomach. Clark smothers a groan and kisses again, wet and messy, putting his whole body into it. He can feel how hard Lex is under his leg and trails his fingers down the still-buttoned shirt, pausing at the waist.

Grins into darkening eyes and lets his fingers slide down, tracing the hard line of his erection through the pants.

"We're here, sir." Mercy, voice so neutral that you'd never think she was witnessing her boss being seduced right in front of her.

"Okay." Lex's voice, gravelly and low, widens Clark's grin. "Check for--"

"Security reports it's secure."

Lex's hands are in his hair, drawing him back down, a kiss slow and deep and impossibly sexy. He pulls back when the door opens, and Lex takes a sharp breath.

Climbing out of a limo with a painfully interested erection just isn't anywhere near easy, and Lex doesn't look too thrilled about it either. Mercy follows them into the elevator, rustling softly as she keeps a comfortable distance, enough for Clark to pretend she isn't there. Enough for Clark to feel absolutely comfortable running his hands down Lex's back, hands going to slim hips, pulling Lex back against him, sucking just behind his ear.

"Clark." Murmured, hands covering his, but definitely not pulling away. Definitely nothing like it, rubbing up against him through his pants, and Clark shudders, biting down into the thin skin of Lex's throat. "You're going to kill me."

Whatever. Like he doesn't know Lex's sex drive by now. Grinning, Clark runs his tongue over the bite in soft apology, finding another spot to worry with his teeth.

The ding of the elevator is a huge annoyance.

"Fuck," Clark murmurs, drawing back, but the hands on his stop him from moving too far. Mercy goes out first--hmm, this is new--then Lex follows after a single glance, pulling Clark behind him.

Mercy's the one to put in the codes, unlocking the door for them, and as they pass her, Clark hears her murmuring something into her headset. Code. Probably something like, Elvis is in the building, or, the pigeon has landed. Penguin maybe?

Lex is looking at him funny when he starts giggling.

"Come on, let's get some water in you," Lex murmurs, grinning back. Two lefts and they're in the darkened kitchen. Lex flips on the low lights over the island, kicking off his shoes as he pads to the refrigerator.

Cool tile and metal under his hands. Clark looks around the room with purely human eyes. Too dark to see clearly, though it's huge and imposing, like the one at the castle in Smallville. More modern, though, and then a bottle of water is pressed into his hand.

"Drink all of it," Lex murmurs into his ear. "Trust me, hangovers are no fun at all."

"You've had them?" With Lex's healing, he'd think--

"Yes." Lex opens the bottle Clark's holding and pushes it toward his mouth. "With application and dedication, it's perfectly possible for me to get very, very drunk."

Clark takes a drink, watching Lex watch him. "I want to see."

"Me drunk?" Lex's own bottle of water is forgotten on the counter--hands on either side, trapping Clark. "I can arrange that." Lex leans forward, brushing his lips against the exposed skin of Clark's collar. "Finish the bottle."

As quickly as he can, oh yeah. Clark nods, shivering with every light, almost chaste touch of lips on skin, feeling a little dizzy and too hard to think. The water's gone before he knows it, leaving his hands empty--totally unacceptable. Much better to reach for Lex, turn them around, lifting him easily onto the counter with simple human strength.

Simple, easy, and Clark fixes his gaze on the bulge in dark trousers, breathing sharply through his nose.

"Clark." Breathless. A plea and a demand and a question all at once. The belt comes loose almost too easily, making up for the inner and outer buttons that refuse to come loose. Clark stares at them hard, wondering if ripping is an option. "Here. Let me--"

Elegant, shaking fingers--that's hot, knowing Lex wants him that much, hot to watch Lex, careless of expensive material and dignity, and Clark hears himself make an unrecognizable sound when Lex gets the zipper down, pushing Lex's hands aside. Taking the waist of the pants, Clark pulls down sharply, Lex lifting enough to help. Boxers next, and then hands are in his hair and Clark goes down with relief.

Fast, hard stretch of his mouth, heavy weight on his tongue, and that taste--free of the perfumes and scents of smoke and dinner and a night out, just Lex and some powdery soap, and Clark swallows, taking him completely. Loves the way Lex mutters, fingers twisting in Clark's hair, little breathless pleas and snatches of sentences that are half gasp, half groan. Lex, arching into him and holding tight and Clark feels it, all of it. Sharp pulls of his hair that go straight to his cock, bruising roughness of fucking his mouth on Lex's cock, raw and addictive and perfect. Holding Lex's thighs open with both hands, tight and hard, humming softly when he feels Lex stretch out on the counter. The visuals in his head are hot, but he'd love to see this, see Lex's face and Lex's body now, twisting and arching, growling and helpless.

He works a finger into his mouth, getting it wet, half-high off the sounds he's getting out of Lex. More than high off being able to do this at all. Lex twists again and Clark pulls up his legs, working the damp finger in slow circles around his hole, ignoring the difficulties of pants that keep trying to get in the way.

Pulling off, Clark laughs at the sound of Lex's shocked gasp.

"Don't you dare stop."

Shoes, off. Socks, gone. Pants and boxers, discarded on the floor, and Lex is just lying there, half-naked, gorgeous and flushed and hard and almost pleading, but not quite. Clark presses Lex's heels up onto the counter, spread thighs an invitation, sucking two fingers deliberately into his mouth. Lex's eyes are on him with utter, perfect focus, drowning everything else out.

"Clark--" And God, Lex is whining, completely sexy. Clark laughs again, leaning close enough to breathe on the blood darkened head, letting his fingers tease lightly at Lex's sac before sliding behind. Just---playing, tongue coming out to lick lightly, and Lex arches, trying to get more. "Son of a bitch...."

"Shhh." Goes down and pushes both fingers in at the same time--sweet stretch and Lex's voice cuts off on an indrawn hiss, hips pushing against him. Lex's hands in his hair again, and it's like begging, don't stop, never stop, and Clark wonders how long he can keep Lex like this, twisting and gasping and needy. Maybe for a long time, maybe forever, and both sound great.

But. A twist of his fingers and he swallows, and Lex arches hard, almost impossible to keep him down, a ragged yell that's some corruption of Clark's name, coming hard. Clark pulls back enough to catch the taste, sucking, drawing out the shudders and gasps, then bringing him back down, slow and sweet.

Half-tempting, the idea of just crawling up on the counter and curling all around Lex, but Clark contents himself with a grin buried in Lex's stomach, riding out the shudders.

Long, long moments before the hands in his hair loosen, lazily petting.

"Jesus Christ," Lex murmurs, and Clark turns enough to look up. Dazed blue eyes, red mouth, and slick, flushed skin. "You--" A breathless chuckle follows, and Clark gives up, knee on the edge of the counter, bracing himself on his elbows over Lex, leaning down to kiss him. Still hard, but he can wait for Lex to catch up again. Slick arms slide around him, working under tuxedo jacket and shirt, hands sliding up and down his back. "I should get you drunk more often."

Clark grins, carefully lowering himself until he can feel Lex, bare skin and ruined tux. Closes his eyes and listens to the slowing beat of Lex's heart.

Drunk can be pretty damn good.


Lois chews gum and works on her computer just in front of him. Like any other day. Mail people come and go bearing mailish things. Just like always. Keyboards clatter and voices raise and fall, stories are written, investigations planned, interviews typed up. People are busy.

So why does he feel like everyone is staring at him?

That would possibly be the double shot of The Inquisitor and The Star, both of which someone with a sick sense of humor and far, far too little decency left on his desk.

The slow roll of a chair interrupts his contemplation of the papers. That's Lois, probably wondering why he's still staring at his desk. One manicured nail skims the cover, flicking his vision with sparkles of deep blue. "You beat the bat-boy found in the wilds of the Arizona desert for front page news," Lois remarks casually, tapping the smaller picture in the lower right-hand corner. He and Lex, that one quick kiss in the box at the opera, immortalized in brilliant color, takes up the rest of the space. Because that is how Clark's luck is running. "They say he's lived his entire life eating scorpions and mice he caught with his little claws."

Clark's less appreciative of Lois' humor than usual. Glaring at her, he shoves both papers aside, looking down at his keyboard, then his monitor. Email from Mom, Dad, Chloe, Pete, some from people he hasn't seen since high school or graduation from college, and Daniel. He deletes that one with something like triumph. Only a hundred or so to go. "Jimmy hasn't emailed yet."

"No," Lois answers, getting another piece of gum. "You got a call before you came in." Popping the gum in her mouth, she chews cheerfully, obviously enjoying his twitches. "A Dr. Cassius."

Fuck. "Great."

Lois frowns slightly, then leans over to her desk, stretching one arm and picking up a small sticky note from her monitor's screen. "He wants you to call him back. It sounded urgent."

Clark looks up in time to meet very serious eyes. "Urgent-now or urgent-it'll-keep?"

"Urgent-now." Cracking the gum, Lois studies him. "Chloe give you a hard time last night?"

Picking up his pencil, Clark considers his notebook, tapping. He has a lot of pages of circles now. "Not as much as I expected. Don't tell me--she used it up on you."

"We had a lovely little chat, yes." Quick, sharp smile. Clark wonders what was said. "The things I do for you. Did you read the interview of the former Mrs. Luthor yet?"

"No." It's been a long morning. Low grade headache from the moment he woke up, then forced to pry himself loose of smooth, slick skin and a sleepy, touchable Lex wrapped around him. Work hadn't seemed that important, especially with Lex murmuring phrases like 'shower sex' and 'call in sick'. Aspirin's helped with the headache, but his skin misses Lex.

Is there a reason he came to work today? A good one? Right, that masochistic thing. Just not quite masochistic enough to see what the lovely Lydia Luthor has to say about him in The Inquisitor.

Lois reaches to take his pencil--he's tapped hard enough to break the lead. Tucking it behind her ear, she dusts off the paper, and he notes the tiny indentations he left. "Lydia isn't done yet, Clark. Lex could have handled this a lot better."

Glancing up, Clark watches her eyes fix on his monitor. Thinking hard. "What do you think?"

"Think?" Lois looks up, a strand of hair sliding in front of her eyes. She flips The Inquisitor off the front page of Lydia's lovely, stoic face, to the interview within. Skimming down with her fingernail, she hits the line. His name jumps out like bold print. "I think the fact Lex filed the day you arrived in the Arctic is suspicious in itself."

"Okay, that made no sense."

Lois looks up. "Clark, he thought you did it--what, for me?"

"Yes."

"But he knew when you left. He knew what you were going to do."

"He guessed." And how had Lex guessed? No one knew about gold kryptonite. God, Clark hadn't known until he found it.

"He's in a marriage that's politically and socially ideal--her father the former and extremely popular retired senator, her mother the granddaughter of a president, Metropolis socialite, a lauded architect in her own right, a graduate of Yale--shit, considering this is Lydia, I wouldn't be surprised if she were a dyed in the wool virgin as well--do you really need me to explain?"

Clark's mouth tightens. "No."

"Why throw that away?"

"He said he had reason." Though with Lex, that doesn't really say much.

"What if that reason was you?" Her nail skids down the page, fingers closing over his, white knuckled on the edge of the desk. "Did you ever consider that?"

No. He really hadn't. Breath catching, Clark stares blindly at the interview, unable to read a word. "Lois, I know him. He'd never let--even if Lydia was purely political, even if--"

It would be like Lex going to Superman and saying, I've decided to give up this immoral and unethical way of life. I plan to join a monastery and take vows of poverty. In Tibet. With sheep. Please devote everything I own to charity. Good-bye.

Lex would not--would not--give up his future for anything or anyone. Not at twenty-one, not at thirty-three.

"It's like--"

"Like he's stopped caring," Lois says, testing the words between her teeth. Her eyes are fixed on the article. Something's working behind her eyes, and Clark would give a lot to figure out what that is. "Like someone's who's just gone through a lifechanging experience--"

Clark just can't see Lex herding sheep in Tibet. It doesn't compute. "I--" He's folding the papers, tucking them under one arm, standing up. Glasses, check. Coat. Where-- "I need to--"

"Your coat's still on," Lois says calmly. "You have an interview with Cassius for a story we're writing and will be out until after lunch. I'll tell Perry."

"You're--"

"Amazing. Breathtaking. The love of your life if you were straight. I know the litany. Go ahead. God knows, you won't be any use to me today." Leaning back, she picks the pencil from her hair, then turns to her keyboard, already typing. "I'll watch for Jimmy's email."

Clark ignores all eyes that watch him leave, staring at the elevator's bright numbers.


"Mr. Kent!"

Fuck the secretary. Screw security. And damn the elevators for moving so fucking slow while he's at it. The uniformed LexCorp security officers don't actually stop him, even hinder him really, which somehow seems to be the biggest thing of all. He was a kid the last time he had these kinds of privileges, when he never knew what they meant.

"Where is he?"

Charity's mouth opens on a breath, then she glances down at her desk. Fighting her instincts, maybe, then she looks up.

"Gym. Third floor." She reaches into her desk, and Clark tenses for no reason he can figure out. But all that comes out is a card. "This will get you through security. Mr. Luthor ordered--"

"Thanks." Snatching the card from her hand, he turns around, sweat breaking out across his forehead--has he been running?--drying cold on the back of his neck, under his shirt. He cards into the elevator--by now, Charity's called down, Lex probably knows he's coming. Mercy and Hope might stop him.

He wonders if he'll let them. He could have his first trip to the hospital today.

People stop to stare when he passes, or he thinks they do, but he's not stopping to survey. Down this hall, through that door, he knows LexCorp Towers inside and out--Superman did, anyway, and Clark still has the knowledge. Two of Lex's security watch him approach from either side of the double doors but make no move to stop him, and he pushes inside, not even bothering to flash the card.

Mercy hits the matted floor with a gasp and Lex comes up on one knee, flushed, sweating, blue eyes alive with the high he knows Lex loves best. Like sex, maybe, more than the refined power of money and business and politics, this--one on one, pure body and instinct, action and reaction. The place Lex stops thinking and just feels.

Mercy's panting, arm jerked up between her shoulder blades, Lex's knee in the center of her back. Hope's watching, but Clark can see the fresh bandages on her wrist, the taped knee beneath the lycra, faint bruising around one eye.

A second where Clark can almost see the struggle going on under Lex's skin--pure unleashed aggression, and he's not done, not nearly, and instinct sends Clark back a step against the closed doors in a stuttered step. Two short breaths and Lex's head goes down, control re-established.

Barely.

"Done," Lex murmurs. "Up." Letting go, he steps back and Mercy rolls on her back, coming up on one arm. There's too much--something--in the room. Superman was invincible--he didn't get high off of kicking someone's ass, no challenge, no--human instinct. No desire to, really. Or his parents training, the strict limits Clark set on himself years before, knowing who and what he was, what he could do without even meaning to.

Clark is human now, though, and it's a shock to feel it. Surge of adrenaline and shock of raw aggression--Jesus. Breathing out, Clark leans into the door. Lex gives him a slow smile that doesn't hide the danger at all.

Being Superman so long apparently kept him immune to the fact that Lex radiates purely physical threat as thoroughly and completely as he does everything else. Wow.

"You're both dismissed. Go get checked and changed." Lex rubs his wrist absently, then pulls Mercy to her feet.

"Yes, Lex." Lex picks up a towel from the floor, eyes fixed on Clark as the women disappear out a different door.

"You need something, Clark?"

Yes. But he's not sure what anymore. Wiping his forehead, Lex drops the towel again, and Clark from somewhere distant notes the taped knuckles, the bruises forming on one wrist in the elegant shape of Mercy's fingers, vivid against the pale skin. Faded bruises from Clark's mouth peek out from under the collar of the shirt, behind one elegant ear. It's a strange sort of thrill to see it.

"Water?" Lex is pacing to the back of the room--banked, whatever it was in him, but not gone, and Clark takes another slow breath, following Lex through another small door. Lounge, if anything this utilitarian can be called one, refrigerator and bare metal table, and Lex takes out two bottles, tossing one at Clark, before leaning into the table on one hip. "I'm going to go out on a limb and say you're not happy with the articles."

"I didn't read them." Much. He'd skimmed on the bus, too aware that curious eyes were fixed on him, maybe half-recognizing him from The Star's cover. "I--why did you divorce your wife?"

Lex's eyebrows jump, like it wasn't exactly the question he was expecting. "Why does it matter?"

"Don't play with me, Lex. You filed when I went to the arctic. Tell me it's unrelated."

Lex grins, uncoiling with liquid grace. "It's not unrelated."

Jesus. Vows of poverty are coming next. This is--completely wrong, and Clark can't even wrap his mind around it.

Lex is close enough to breathe--sweat, totally male, like when they fuck, but edged differently. He doesn't even know he's going to do it until he catches Lex's hand just as it touches his face, wrapping his fingers around Lex's wrist, squeezing too tightly over Mercy's bruises, and Lex catches his breath. Jerking long fingers from his skin, and when the blue eyes meet his, it's--

Really fucking good, actually.

"You know, most people would be flattered."

"I'm not most people." Though that's there, too, and he's not happy about it. Not happy about that strange little part of him that's getting off on the idea. A different part from the one that can't imagine any Lex Luthor at any age doing what this one's doing without so much as a hesitation. There's got to be a better reason.

Lex twists his wrist free, almost effortlessly, and Clark staggers a little. Staggers more with the push that puts him back in the gym, and Lex is watching him.

"You didn't do it for me."

"You have no idea what I'd do for you." Walking out, Lex tosses the almost-full bottle aside. It hits the wall, splattering it with water before a drop to the floor. Clark tears his eyes away to watch Lex's slow approach. "I divorced my wife--and you have no idea how much that judge cost me to get everything through before Lydia could slow me down. I'm risking my political future and my social standing, not to mention stock prices. Three hours ago, Hope delivered to Lydia what she had better hope is her last communication from me regarding any future public comments on either of us. I think I got the point across."

"Why?"

"Because I wanted you."

And that's a reason? It's like--Clark wants to sit down and think, wants to pace, wants to leave, but more than anything else right now, he wants--

The next push unbalances him, sends him to the floor and Lex is--Lex is so fucking amused.

"This isn't you." It's years ago, though--carefully hoarded memories, some good, some not, but Lex hasn't risked everything for anyone since--since.... "Not since--not since--" It's hard to say her name. "Not since Desiree."

Lex nods. "That was for you, too. Didn't you ever guess?"

No. Yes. Maybe. Raising himself on his elbows, Clark wonders who he's looking at. Cold businessman, Superman's enemy, ambitious Lex, Clark's lover, all parts melding together and none at all. He doesn't know him at all, and knows everything there is to know. "Why didn't you tell the government who I am when you were telling them all my weaknesses?"

That Lex expected, from the widening smile, and this day can't get any more surreal. "I'd do anything for you."

"You spent years trying to kill me!"

Lex drops into a crouch, and their eyes meet. This is fear, Clark thinks, with the first shock of it, hitting him like a two by four to the back of the head. This is what people see when they look at Lex, when they understand what's under all the polish and the glitter and the charm. This is what's sensed, and it's instinct and it's self-preservation, and Clark can't imagine how he missed it before.

"You're mine. Alive or dead, Clark, I wasn't giving you up to anyone else."

From anyone else, it wouldn't make sense. Anyone else wouldn't have that kind of dichotomy in their head, but Lex had Lionel Luthor to train him and Clark Kent to lie to him, Smallville to screw with him.

It's terrifying and sickening and arousing as hell. How Lex can focus everything he is, all that emotion and need and blatant want like a weapon and turn it on, just like that.

"I--I can't--" He doesn't want to. He doesn't want to want that, to know this, but he does, too. There's never been anyone like Lex, even close.

"Yes, you can. And you want to." Lex is close enough to breathe now. Moving when Clark wasn't looking, hand on Clark's knee. "I've had years, Clark. If there was a way out, I'd have found it."

That Clark knows.

"I wanted you when I met you," Lex whispers. "I wanted you when you were my friend, when you were my enemy, when I hated you, and when I fought you. Nothing's ever changed between us but our battlefields. You know that."

"You think because I'm human--" Can he accept this? Maybe he already has. Somehow, when he hadn't even known he was doing it.

"The war's over, isn't it?" Both hands on his knees, spreading his legs effortlessly. Clark thinks he should pull away. He can't quite make himself do it. "You can write your articles about me and you can argue with me and you can fight with me and anything else you want to do, and maybe you'll even change my mind, but you'll be here and you'll be mine when you do it."

Yes, this would have scared Lois to death, even the implication. He's getting it now. "You want everything."

"Yes."

Too--much to think about, and he should leave. Lots of shoulds and musts crowd his head that have his father's voice, Chloe's voice, even Pete's now, but they're faded from this room, from the brilliant reality of the man kneeling between his legs.

"What--did you tell Lydia?" It's the last thing on his mind. It doesn't even enter the equation, because he can guess, maybe already knows. How Lex handles threats to himself, to his property. There's dead bodies littered behind him like a trail, and some might have Clark's name on them.

No, some do. He knows about that, too.

"That I'll protect you," Lex murmurs, both hands braced on the floor on either side of Clark's hips. Like some exotic cat let out to play after too-long confinement, Lex crawls his body, the drag of cloth between them barely noticeable. Lex could be touching his bare flesh. Coming to stop over him, staring down with perfect focus and nothing hidden at all. "From her, from anything she does. You, your friends, your family. That anyone she thinks she can touch she'll pay for."

"Would she? Do that?"

Lex's sharp grin is a good answer. "She was my wife for three years. You think she didn't learn some things from me?"

Clark shivers under the calm surety. This is--way above his head. This isn't what he expected, though maybe he should have, but then again--then again Lex was right. He hadn't known everything.

He still doesn't.

"Scared yet?"

"Do you want me to be?"

Lex has to think about it. Eyes narrowing, weighing the pros and cons, and for some reason, that--that, normal Lexness, doing his mental balance sheet, brings back something like equilibrium.

Clark chokes on little laugh--it's hysterical and it's completely wrong, but he lays back on the rough matting and just goes with it. Because everyone was right--Dad, Chloe, Pete, Smallville, every warning, all of it, in ways that even as Superman he hadn't gotten, but--they were right.

And he doesn't care.

"Clark?" Polite inquiry and impatient order all at once. Clark shakes his head slowly, calming down by breaths, finally looking up into blue eyes he recognizes--a severely puzzled and slightly put out Lex who isn't at all happy about Clark acting completely out of what he'd expected.

"You got my lease canceled, didn't you?"

"As of nine o'clock this morning, I own your building." Lex leans down enough to brush a lazy kiss across his mouth. "I was badly cheated, but I was in a hurry."

"Yeah."

The look changes, becoming gentler. More familiar "I'll give you until the end of the month."

"Son of a bitch," Clark breathes, and pushes Lex off, but even Lex falling is too elegant to be called a sprawl. Controlled tumble landing beside him, and Lex lifts himself on one arm, obviously surprised, still amused, and far too confident. Like he knows. "You can't control my life, Lex."

Lex grins. "I'm just trying to expand your options."

See, Superman didn't have these kinds of problems.

"My life was supposed to be less complex," Clark says, staring at the ceiling. "One identity, a normal life, maybe some dates, and late night television. You know. What normal people can do."

"You'd get bored very fast."

Clark turns his head. "How would you know?"

With a sigh, Lex reaches out, tracing along the line of his jaw. Clark doesn't pull away. "I know you."

"Do you?" It scares him that Lex very well might, better than Clark knows him. Maybe better than Clark knows himself.

"I've had time to think." The little smile's back. "And I'm making it very simple. Think about it. No long, boring dates trying to find whatever passes for your one true love, worrying about commitment and children and taxes and mortgages, deciding between public and private schools, and fights over who takes the trash out every morning."

"Right. You're so much simpler." Ambition, ruthlessness, more than a touch of megalomania, maybe a psychotic break or two--and man, wouldn't that explain a lot right now?

"I don't want that much, Clark." Clark lets his look speak for itself. Lex sighs softly, the touch firming, slicking lightly through his hair. "You're making this complex." Sitting up, he gets easily to his feet, extending a hand. "Come on. I'll buy you a late breakfast. Why does it matter why I divorced Lydia?"

That's a good question. Warily, Clark lets Lex pull him to his feet, straightening his coat. "If I asked why the government's so interested in Superman and why LexCorp is suddenly so interested in helping it out, would you tell me the truth?"

The blue eyes narrow in thought. "It--has nothing to do with you, Clark, any of it." A little shrug that could mean anything at all.

"I'm going to find out." So much for discretion. Lois is going to kill him.

Lex gives him a narrow, thoughtful look, but the amusement's still there. Oh fuck you, Lex.

"Clark, I don't doubt it at all."


"How convenient," Lois says over pasta, stabbing at the innocent bowl like she's envisioning Clark's head. He swallows hard, tearing his into his breadstick. "Oh! Did you say, hey, I know all about that link between Cassius and Rhinestadt, and here are my notes. And by the way, I've got a friend working right now to find out what's up, so why don't you make some calls and put some roadblocks in his way?"

Clark supposes he deserves this.

"Jesus, Kent. You know better. Did you seriously think he'd tell you?"

Clark looks up. "Would you believe me if I said I was looking for a reaction?"

"No. You were pissy at your boyfriend and said too much. Or--" Lois brutally stabs a meatball. "How did he react?"

"Weird." When Lois looks up, anger defusing in interest, Clark shrugs. "He's not worried, that much I could tell. Which is--"

"I think we've established Luthor is acting bizarrely. Further commentary on the subject isn't necessary." Lois twirls her fork in the spaghetti, mouth pursed in concentration. "Did the Fortress have an estimate on the size of the meteors? At this point, I'm open to any suggestions on why the government and LexCorp are doing this."

"Alien invasion?" Clark says, and Lois gives him a frown. "Right. No, the Fortress says the sizes seem to be well within the safety zone and the planet's defensive capabilities." Stabbing at a slice of zucchini, Clark wonders if it would be worth the aggravation and try to hack into Lex's computer. Not that Lex would leave anything even vaguely incriminating on it. "This isn't adding up at all."

"No," Lois answers slowly. She's staring at the bowl again, but the dark eyes are unfocused. "The planet's defensive capabilities.... Clark, how big is the biggest piece?"

"What?"

Lois drops her fork. "How big? Did the Fortress say how big?"

Clark opens his mouth, then shuts it. "I have the exact figures on my computer. I didn't memorize them or anything. What?"

"They're not moving weapons onto the space station," Lois says slowly. "They're all on the ground. I'm--" Lois shakes her head sharply. "Jimmy's got to have something by now. I'll call and see if I can, for once, not get his voicemail." With a sigh, Lois takes a bite, chewing contemplatively. "So how was your morning?"

"I'm getting why you broke it off," Clark answers, stirring the zucchini slowly in its butter.

Lois' head tilts slightly as she puts down her fork. "And you wonder why I don't have a permanent lover."

Clark's head jerks up. "Who says this is permanent?"

"Please. You don't have casual sex. You never have. Hence your lack of a love life for so long." Lois swirls her fork in the spaghetti sauce, then shakes her head. "Come on, Clark. If all you wanted was sex, there are a hell of a lot less--obsessive fields you could be exploring. Instead, what, four days in, you're accepting a date from the one man in Metropolis whose been obsessed with you and your alter-ego, for what, most of your life?"

There are times he really doesn't like her much. "I didn't know--"

"What you were getting into? I'd buy that from anyone else. Not from you." Lois shrugs elegantly, taking another delicate bite. "Are you in love?"

Clark's fork skids on the plate, screeching long loud enough for Lois' eyebrows to jump, mouth quirking slightly. Clark bites down hard. It still hurts when he does that. He's got to break the habit. "Point taken."

"What are you afraid of?"

Lex? No. He's been scared for Lex, scared of what Lex could do, fucking terrified of the things Lex has achieved, but Lex himself? Clark thinks carefully, trying to find a way to say it. "The same thing that scared me when we met. He takes over everything. He wants everything. He doesn't even--I don't think he realizes that--" Clark stops. "Normal people--"

"Normal is overrated." Lois breaks a breadstick in half, dipping it into the bowl of olive oil at her elbow. "Clark--"

"He makes me want to compromise." Clark keeps his eyes fixed on his plate. This, Lois will never really understand. "He always has."

Lois lets out a slow breath. "How much?"

"Why do you think Superman and Lex Luthor are enemies?" Clark asks, pushing his fork aside. "I--" He stops, leaning his head into his hands. "That was safety, you know. Crap. Simpler life my ass. My life was a hell of a lot simpler before."

"You weren't happy."

Clark looks up. "Do I look happy now?"

Lois' slow smile worries him. "You look like someone who is worrying about the wrong things. Don't let him bully you."

"Okay, I know this is a stupid question, but in between fucking him, did you ever, you know, talk to him?"

The quick flare makes Clark wince. Yes, this is productive. Piss off the best friend. Running desperately between major crises is beginning to be pick up a glow of nostalgia. Right, he didn't sleep well and he was starting to contemplate Tibetan monasteries, but at least he hadn't felt like everything was falling out of his control.

"In the spirit of our continuing friendship, I'll overlook that." Lois' voice is very even, very cool, that hot temper in severe check. Glancing down, he can see what it's costing her in the slow dig of her nails into the table's edge, cutting through the tablecloth. A long second passes in utter silence.

"I'm sorry."

"I know." The scratch of the chair jerks Clark's head up, and he watches Lois throw her napkin onto the table. "I have a source at MetU who has some information about the meteor shower. I'd better get over there before she changes her mind."

"I'm supposed to go with you." Clark fumbles for his wallet, finding a credit card by touch. He has to hope it's not maxed out.

"Not now." Drawing in a breath, Lois pushes the chair in carefully. "I love you. You're my best friend. Right now is not a good time. Look, call your parents and tell them that you're in the middle of a major story and you'll explain things later. Take a nap. Get in touch with Jimmy and get that information from him so we have something to go on here. Go for a walk. I really don't care. But don't even try to pass off this crap about how you aren't strong enough to deal anymore just because you're sticking to one identity." Stepping back, he watches her take another breath, mouth softening. "I'll call if anything comes up."

A quick turn, and the heels click in quiet rhythm as she leaves. Sighing, Clark hands the credit card to the waiter that appears at his wave.

The leftover zucchini looks up at him forlornly from his plate. Clark picks up his fork and pushes it in the butter, wondering if he could have handled this better. That would pretty much be a yes.


It's close to ten when the knock on his door makes him straighten. Hitting pause on the remote, Clark pads to the door, absently dropping it on the recliner by the door. When he opens, Lex is looking at him with a curious expression.

"I got your message."

For once, Lex doesn't look like he's about to go to a meeting. Lex-casual, beige slacks and white shirt, open at the collar. Beneath the cuff of his shirt, though, Clark can see his real hand is wrapped from knuckles to wrist.

"Come in." Clark steps back, looking at Lex in the better light of his living room. Fading green high on one cheekbone and pale violet around one lip. He heals fast, but there are limits, Clark knows. "What have you been doing?"

"I needed stress release," Lex says absently, looking around. Left leg, Clark thinks, noting the give in his knee, barely perceptible, and this has got to be weird as hell, because he's never, ever seen Lex injured outside their fights. "Your mother decorated, didn't she?"

The gingham curtains probably gave it away. Clark nods, closing the door and pushing the bolt into place, turning to watch Lex pace to the middle of the room. "Stop looking like you're wondering what this will look like when you've torn down the building and replaced it with a parking lot. Are you okay?"

Lex lifts his wrist, wincing when he turns it slightly. "I had a bad fall on the floor after lunch. It's a clean break. A few days and it'll be fine." An eyebrow quirks. "You've done worse."

Well, yeah. Backing off a step, Clark wonders what to say. I'm sorry, I didn't actually mean to throw you into a wall when you were doing your 'I am going to destroy this puny building with my super cool dynamite unless you accede to my demands' routine. Total accident you broke your femur and hey, all those concussions? Sorry about those, too.

"I never asked," Clark says slowly, unblinking as Lex studies him. "Do you always train with them?"

"Yes." Nothing else needed to be said, and Clark wonders how many years and breaks it was before Lex could pin Mercy like that. "They taught me and they're not afraid to hurt me to get the lesson across." Lex flexes his hand and doesn't wince. "I appreciate that."

"You hired them when you left Smallville." Clark still isn't sure about the chronology on acquiring them. One day they were just there, like they'd always been around, slipping so smoothly into position that Clark sometimes has trouble remembering Lex without them.

"That's--an unusual way to put it." Lex's head tilts. "Why are you interested?"

"I asked Mercy once." Back when Clark was still working out what the hell was going on, how life had gotten to the point where he had two identities, a mortal enemy, and a faint sense that this wasn't exactly what he'd been envisioning at sixteen when he thought about the future.

"Interesting. Did she answer?"

"No." Clark hesitates. "I--it's just--I've never fought you. Not on a level playing field. It didn't--I didn't know--" That Lex could do that. In theory, he knew Lex had started training from sheer self-defense. Smallville was educational that way. But Mercy and Hope had scared Clark as Superman, utterly careless of the cost if they thought they could hurt him. He can't even imagine Lex willing to take having the shit beat out of him daily until he was good enough to beat them.

"You thought I hired them because I couldn't protect myself?" Lex nods almost as if to himself, a little smile hovering at the corner of his mouth. "That's the correct impression."

That's Lex, won't give anything away. Clark stares at him. "Did I ever scare you?"

"No."

"Even knowing--" Clark stops, looking down at his hands. They used to be able to lift cars, tear through concrete, turn coal into diamonds. "I--never thought about it. Before now. You knew what I could do, Lex, even before I became Superman. It never scared you?"

"No."

"Why the hell not?" He's not scared of Lex, he can't be--but as Superman, this never came up. Kryptonite could hurt. Nothing else did. Now there's papercuts and bruised knees and stubbed toes. There's Lex, pushing him--and him falling. Unable to stop himself, and people can do this to him anytime they want. "Jesus. How do--"

Lex takes two steps, crossing the distance between them effortlessly, too fast for Clark's body to get time to flinch, and he's glad about that.

"How do I what?" Lex doesn't touch him, maybe sensing that Clark would move--it takes everything to stand here. "This is all new, isn't it?"

"You're just getting that? You could--you could--" Kill him. Clark. Hell, at this point, Lois could. She's had training, she has the strength, and God knows, she's got the will. Logic says he's being stupid. Logic didn't see Lex take down Mercy, though.

"Wow." Lex's voice is soft. "I didn't even think of that. You're used to being invulnerable and you're used to being absolute." Clark blinks at the almost wondering expression on Lex's face. "In every fight, every argument, in any given room at any given time, you knew that you couldn't be physically hurt by anyone."

"Yes." His mind's bringing up memories of Lois in the gym, of the thousand times he's stopped muggings and burglaries and brawls in alleys, rapes and attacks and beatings. Fragile human bodies that broke so easily, but it's all new, this--awareness. "Lex--"

"You do know most people don't settle things by beating the crap out of each other? Your experiences as Superman don't apply to a regular life."

"What? It happens all the time." How would he defend himself? Superman had strength and nothing hurt. "God, this is so stupid." Reaching out, Clark takes the bandaged hand, turning it carefully, watching for Lex's wince. It's easier when Lex is at rest. "You let them do this to you."

"I've done worse to others. And had worse done to me." He can feel Lex's gaze. "Clark. I'm not going to hurt you."

Clark laughs a little. Even to himself, he sounds hysterical. Right. Lex can say that and mean it, when two weeks ago he would have killed Superman without a wince.

"Clark." Instantly, the hand pulls away, curling around his palm. Clark takes a breath, forcing his eyes up. "All these years being Superman fucked you up, didn't they? You saw all the worst of it all the time."

"I know it's not all like that." Logically, yes. It's not sinking in. "It's just--I...." Clark shakes his head. "Stupid, isn't it?"

"Smart. It'll save you from any ideas of getting into bar brawls and stopping muggings with your bare hands. If you still feel like playing vigilante these days, at least let me get you a gun." The humor's deliberate, Clark knows. "Sit down. Breathe a little. Otherwise, you'll never leave this apartment again and I really hate it."

Clark lets Lex lead him over to the couch, sitting down and staring at the floor. "Maybe I should take some self-defense lessons."

"Probably." Lex sits down beside him, reaching over to carefully touch him. Just a brush against his shoulder "I'll set you up with Mercy. She likes you."

Clark lifts his head, feeling the little grin spreading his mouth without warning. It's funny, on some fucked-up level of his brain. Man of Steel--hates papercuts, fears needles, and runs from fights. Oh man, Bruce would fucking stroke out laughing. "She likes me? Yeah, I can remember all that liking the last time she held a gun to my head--what was that, Paraguay?"

"Ecuador," Lex answers, smiling back. "Now tell me why I'm here? Besides your sudden bout of insecurity?"

"You can't control my life."

Lex rolls his eyes, leaning back into the sofa. "I'm not trying to control you life--"

"Lex, what the fuck do you call what you're doing?"

"Giving you better options." Lex looks at him, calm and too reasonable.

"You asked if you scare me." Clark meets the blue eyes. "Is that what you want? What you always wanted? Because you can now. And I won't live like that."

He can see Lex processing it, back to calculations and probabilities, and Clark wonders if there's any other way he can explain it that would make sense. "I don't want to scare you."

"I don't--" Though maybe Lex doesn't even know he's doing it. He's a man used to obedience, to people hanging on his every word. Clark can't even be sure it's penetrating that you just don't do this sort of thing. "Just--just wait--"

"I did wait." The low voice cuts through Clark's protests, quiet and deadly serious. "I waited for you to grow up and then you were gone. I waited for you to get the fuck over your savior complex and then you became my enemy. What do you want me to wait for this time? For you fall in love with someone else? I'm tired of waiting."

"I won't."

Lex looks at him. Really looks. "I don't believe you."

Of course not. Because that would be simple. And completely against Lexian philosophy, which is get what you want as quickly as possible before someone else takes it away. Frankly, Clark's beginning to think he's lucky that Lex hasn't chained him to the bed at the penthouse. And he might not have ruled out that option yet, either. "Ask me. Ask. Give me reasons. This isn't the way it's going to go It's not--it's not going to work this way between us." Sighing, Clark wonders how he can explain this. If he even can. Superman didn't have to worry about this. But then, Superman never, ever got laid by Lex either. Or had a relationship that worked. Or really enjoyed life all that much, what with the stoppings of death and destruction on a daily basis. "If you want something from me, you ask. Don't ever again try to manipulate me." They were both wrong about nothing changing but the battlefields. This is an entirely different kind of war.

"I'm not trying--" Lex stops short.

"This morning wasn't a threat, was it?" He hates to say it, knows Lex understands the implications by the stiffening of the body beside him. "You forgot I wasn't Superman. I remembered that I'm not." Clark lets out a slow breath. "Look, we--"

"Compromise." Lex says it like a dirty word, but when Clark looks at him, he sees--something, flickering behind blue eyes, raw and very old, very familiar. "I'm not used to it."

"Get used to it." Clark breathes out, then turns on the couch, trying to think how to phrase this. Some way to say it that will penetrate enough for Clark to get some breathing room. "Do you know why I asked you over here?"

"Because I scared you and you wanted me on your own ground." Well, Lex knows his psychology, at least. "I can understand that."

See, Clark really hadn't needed to actually hear that, though. A little too concrete a reminder for his masculinity to handle. "Not just that." Clark glances around the living room. "I've lived here since I graduated."

"I know that."

Of course he does. Sighing, Clark grits his teeth. Say it, just say it. "Lex, this is my life."

Clark can see the muscles along Lex's jaw tighten, eyes flicking away to fix on a point just over his shoulder. "You've already made it clear that you--"

"Oh Jesus Christ, Lex, what the hell do you need?" Lex stares at him like he's gone crazy. That's an attractive option. It'd save a lot of stress. "Lex, we're, for lack of a better word, dating. You know, where people get to know each other and see their apartments and learn about their lives and do you need a fucking diagram?"

And people say he's oblivious to things. Clark watches it sink in. Standing up, he walks over to the recliner, picking up the remote, flicking the movie off, then back to the beginning.

"This is my favorite movie," Clark says, like Lex had asked. "I ordered pizza." Fixing his eyes on the television, Clark takes a deep breath, slowly letting it out again. "I thought we could hang out here, watch a movie. That work for you?" Not waiting for an answer, he drops back on the couch, feeling the faint brush of their shoulders.

Lex is very quiet beside him as the music starts.

"Is this compromise?" Lex asks, very softly, and warm fingers slide across his shoulder for the briefest moment. Relaxing a little, Clark looks over to see the small, surprised smile curving his mouth. Too much to resist, even for Clark. Dropping the remote, he leans over and brushes a kiss across those lips, feeling the sharply indrawn breath, before drawing away with the barest trace of Lex on his tongue.

"This is how it starts."


There's soda, because Clark's really never developed a taste for beer. Lex doesn't even look surprised that it comes in big plastic containers when Clark sits it on the coffee table. And he knows Lex loves pizza, so that's okay.

All in all, pretty damn successful, sitting on the ratty old couch, watching a movie like they're any two people in the world.

"I never pegged you for a 'The Bridges of Madison County' type of guy," Lex remarks, pulling out a string of cheese as if he's contemplating the physics behind it. "Don't tell me. You used this in college."

"You'd be surprised how easy it is to get dates if you ask when you're holding a copy of it," Clark remarks. "It's a good movie." Lex rolls his eyes, biting off the string. "Okay, what did you use?"

"My name," Lex answers, pulling off another sting of cheese from the top of his pizza, ignoring the crust. He's done that to three pieces so far. "You'd be surprised how easy it is to get dates when the word 'Luthor' is used in a sentence."

"Huh. I always thought it was the cars."

Lex flashes him a grin. "That's good, too."

Clark snickers and puts down his plate, watching Lex finish stripping the pizza of all signs of life, leaving a bare and kind of pathetic dough leftover in his hand. "Are you off tomorrow?"

Lex frowns, dropping the crust on his plate and licking his fingers absently. It's really too sexy. "I can be, I suppose. Why--"

Lex tastes like tomato sauce and too-sweet cola when they kiss, messy and fast, and wet fingers slide the length of Clark's cheeks before stopping in his hair and holding on. Making out on the couch with Lex Luthor. Even better when Lex kicks the coffee table when he turns to get his hands on Clark's skin, knocking off the plate, spilling soda on his pants, and Lex never even notices.

Clark pulls away to laugh, licking the sauce from the corner of his mouth. "You're--sticky."

"I like sticky."

The ring of the phone narrow Lex's eyes, and he looks like he's contemplating a hostile takeover of the telephone company before sighing and shifting back, watching Clark lean over to answer.

There's a horrifying moment of remembering that he owes his parents a lot of phone calls by now.

"Clark?" Lois. Oh thank God. Clark wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and settles down, trying to straighten his shirt.

"Lois. Hey." He tries to think, glancing over at Lex, who is watching him through opaque eyes, like he's contemplating how Clark will look covered in pizza sauce. "Um, this isn't the best time--"

"Reel it in, hotshot. I'm flying out to Atlanta."

"...what?"

Lois' voice is some combination of excited and worried--he's not sure which.

"Jimmy's still partying with his contacts, no doubt, and I want the information now. Easiest way is to go myself."

"Tomorrow is Sunday. Even you don't work every Sunday." At least, he's pretty sure she doesn't. When was her last day off, anyway?

"Stories wait for no one--"

"Oh good God, spare me the spiel. What did you find out?"

"Nothing." Clark's instantly suspicious. "Nothing interesting, anyway. But my contact gave me the name of her old college professor, former expert on such random things as theoretical astrophysics. A man who does not like Rhinestadt much for his LexCorp associations, let me add."

"Nice." Really nice, actually. "Okay. You want--"

"I want you to take a day off and go see your parents. My voicemail is tired of being full." Clark flushes. "But first, I want you to talk to the Fortress and make doubly sure those calculations are right. Right down to size. Email me tomorrow morning--I don't have time to look at anything tonight. I want to face Professor Stephenson with everything we've got."

Clark shudders at the thought of his parents. "Sure. Be careful. Call me tomorrow night."

"You're on." The phone clicks off--from the background noise, he's guessing that she called from the airport. With a sigh, Clark puts the phone back, rubbing a hand absently through his hair. When he looks back, Lex's eyes are fixed on his mouth. "She's--very energetic."

"I'm aware." The blue eyes flicker up, catching his. "What's wrong?"

"I forgot my parents."

The slow grin is completely wrong, as far as Clark's concerned. "Forgot?"

"Um. Ignoring. Very successfully, too." Sighing again, Clark slumps into the couch. "I--sent email. To Mom. To tell her I'm working on something important. For some reason, that just didn't seem to cut it."

"No surprise." Lex watches him carefully. "You should probably talk to them."

"Yeah." He probably needs to go to Smallville. Newly vulnerable son was stressing enough for Mom--adding in the entire Lex thing probably isn't going to help much. Or at all. Breathing out, Clark picks up his soda and takes a drink, assaulted by the novel idea of wishing for it to be spiked. "I--"

"Do you want me to go with you? To see your parents?"

Oh, how many ways is that a bad idea? "Are you going to Smallville for some reason?"

Lex looks thoughtful. "Actually, I was supposed to last week. The plant had an inspection and the new manager was supposed to implement some new safety protocols." Right. LexCorp owns God alone knows how many different plants, businesses, and sundry, but the former Plant #3 in Smallville is the unfortunate recipient of a lot of Lex's very carefully repressed nostalgia. And attention. Lots and lots of attention.

Clark thinks of his car, which hates drives of all kinds, considers the fact that running is now a really bad joke, and then look at Lex. "You mind giving me a lift?" Yes, this will comfort his parents. Yes, this is a bad idea. Under that though, there's that flicker of excitement, anticipation, and right, nostalgia. He and Lex haven't been together in Smallville since they were both kids. Grinning a little, Clark glances over, dismissing uncomfortable thoughts of Dad's face. Lex has one elbow bent up on the back of the couch, head resting lightly on his hand. He's smiling back like he's thinking of them in Smallville, too.

"Not at all."

Clark glances around the apartment briefly, then at the door. There's a flicker of longing for x-ray, just to see how Mercy and Hope are making themselves comfortable in his building. How the other residents might be coping with seeing them pace the halls like caged cats.

"Clark?" Softer, and Clark looks at him. "Come here."

Clark grins when he sits up, crawling the short length between them, watching the blue eyes flare in sudden heat. Straddling the long thighs, Clark settles himself, bracing both hands on the back of the couch, leaning forward, close enough for their foreheads to touch. Warm hands settle on his hips, lining them up, and Lex lets out a slow breath when Clark presses down lightly, just enough to feel how hard Lex is beneath the soft material of his pants. Just enough to make himself shiver, closing his eyes at the little flares of sensation skating down every nerve.

"I'll compromise on the apartment," Clark murmurs, feeling Lex's breath hitch, and leans down enough to draw his tongue gently over the tip of his ear.

"Did compromise." Lex's hands skate up his sides gently, then slide around, fixing on his back, pressing in. "End of the month."

"I'll give you a key to this one and you give me more time." Clark lifts his head, looking down, grinning at the frown.

"Do you have any idea of the crime rate in this part of the city? Not to mention the prostitution and the...."

"Mmm." Catches Lex's mouth in a wet kiss, drawing back to see the hazy arousal fighting pure Luthor obstinance. "You own my building now. Install good security. Like any capable landlord." Sitting back, Clark closes his eyes when Lex pulls his t-shirt free of his jeans, curious fingers tracking along his waist, a hint of a tease. "I--" Clark sucks in a breath when Lex leans forward, his tongue this agile, fast thing that's treating his skin like paper, like Lex is writing his name into Clark's flesh. It's hot, even hotter when Lex arches up, pushing them tight together, and Clark rides out the sparkles of sensation, fingers tightening on the back of the couch. "Lex."

Shaking his head, Clark brushes his mouth over Lex's scalp, feeling Lex make a soft sound against his throat. "I've lived here since I graduated."

"Clark, I know that. I know when you graduated, your GPA, where you bought your furniture, and I even know how many times you've called the plumber to fix that leak in the bathroom." Lex draws back, smiling up at him, bright and shiny.

"Stalker. Kind of hot." He can say that now when Lex is unbuttoning his jeans, tracing that thin line of hair. But Lex makes strange things hot, like opera glasses and dinner and breathing. All suddenly highly sexual things. "How did my plumbing problems fit into your plan for world domination again?"

"Integral part." Lex's teeth fix on his shoulder, bright pain, dizzying. Clark digs into the couch, remembering how many times he's patched it over the years. "Very important."

"Sure." Hand working steadily into his pants. Very hot. Would be so much better if the jeans weren't in the way, but Clark has other ideas. Pulling back, he gets his hands between them, unbuttoning the crisp white shirt, leaving traces of grease and red tomato sauce everywhere he touches. Pulling Lex's shirt free, he finishes, opening him like a wonderful present, the interactive kind.

Oh damn.

"Lex." The splashes of bruising are like a shock, bringing him back down. A few, fading, he can attribute to himself, his fingers printed in pale yellow, but the others--with careful hands, he touches the near-solid black high on Lex's ribs, splashing green just above the nipple. Contact points, knuckles, maybe kicks. He hears his own sharp breath and Lex's resigned sigh. "Jesus--"

"It only looks bad. I heal very fast." Lex's hand covers his, pressing his palm into warm, hard flesh.

"Stress relief?" Clark asks, voice low. Looking up, he shakes his head. "What else?"

Lex's mouth tightens briefly. "Dislocated shoulder, three bruised ribs, bruised right hip."

Pushing back, Clark stares at him. "Lex--"

Warm arms tighten, pulling him closer, and Clark winces, wondering if his knee is hitting that bruised hip. "They'll be gone in a few days. You know that. You're really taking this entire fragility of human life thing far, far too seriously."

That's--not entirely false. Carefully placing his elbows against Lex's shoulder, he lowers his head, just enough to press a kiss on Lex's head. "I never paid attention. Not--not really. I know how those feel. I--you know, I was sixteen the last time I could be hurt, so I don't remember it, not--not like normal people do. People go through this every day."

"No one does what I do," Lex answers, voice light, head tilting enough for their lips to touch. "Stop it." A brush of lips that heats up every nerve, making Clark tense again in a completely different way. "Touch me."

"On this couch?" Clark watches Lex glance around briefly--it was thrift store when it was bought and hasn't improved at all under Clark's care, patching aside. He snickers at the thoughtful look. "I've always wanted to make out with someone on a couch, you know. I--didn't do it much in high school, and adulthood sort of--"

He's cut off, the lumpy cushions under his back, Lex stretching out on top of him like he's some wonderful new mattress. Fingers twining in his hair, tilting his face just enough. "I used to imagine you on that couch in your barn."

Oh. "Really?"

"I'd sit think about you sleeping on it," Lex murmurs, gently kissing the corner of his mouth, tongue warm and soft. "About waking you up."

Clark catches his breath. There's not nearly enough air anymore. "How would you have woken me up?"

Lex's hands skim down his sides, reaching the edge of the t-shirt, skinning it back up over his ribs. Clark tries to lift up enough to pull it off, but a hand on his chest stops him. "No. Just--"

"Yeah," Clark breathes, settling back down. His eyes fall closed at the first touch of Lex's mouth, just below his collar. Slow, open mouthed kiss to his skin that shouldn't be as hot as it is, nerves underneath lighting up. The brush of lips across his nipple makes him arch, hard again, God, so fast, nipple tightening, but Lex doesn't stop, following some path only he knows, mouth pressing hard on his sternum, sucking at too-sensitive skin, then a slow, lazy journey to Clark's other nipple, already tight, anticipatory. Just a brush, making Clark arch, an embarrassingly needy sound working its way out of his mouth.

Every inch of skin is mapped, like Lex has to know everything about him, sucking hard on his stomach, tongue curling around his navel, following that line of hair down but never getting any farther than his hip. It could drive him crazy if Lex keeps this up, slow and steady and so wet.

"Lex," he hears himself whisper, and he wonders how long his hands have been under Lex's shirt, stroking his back, shoulders, anything he can reach. Wonders how long he's been breathing like this, fast and shallow, open-mouthed, how long his heart's been racing and lying so still because he's afraid to move and stop the addictive mouth that's turning him inside out. Lost in this haze of dreamy arousal, and he wonders if he ever would have wanted to wake up from this, ever wants to. His body feels heavy and strangely weightless, too, like only Lex is keeping him here.

"I love how you taste." Low, husky voice against his stomach, rough, like Lex has been breathing smoke for days. "Here." A broad lick just above his navel that makes him arch against Lex's weight, trying to get pressure, anything, on his too-hard cock. "Here." Languorous lick of his nipple, followed by gentle teeth, sending little sparks straight to Clark's spine. "Here, too." Hollow of his throat, warm lips settling there, sweet and hot and Clark's hands freeze on Lex's back, wanting to hold him there. The silky edges of Lex's open shirt brush Clark's skin, sticking wetly when Lex presses him back into the mattress, a knee going between his legs, pushing hard against his cock.

"Fuck."

Lex kisses him, still slow, tongue sliding by his, licking over it. Encouraging Clark to kiss back, and Lex tastes so good. He wants to lay here and be touched like this, never move, even if a spring on this side of the couch is poking into his neck and he's getting a cramp in his thigh from being squashed against the back of the couch. He wants--God--for Lex to never stop, when Lex moves from his mouth to his throat, leaning his head back on the arm of the couch and trying to get Lex closer, somewhere safe where he can't be bruised and can't be hurt.

The movie's still playing, Clark's vaguely aware, and he almost begins to wonder where the remote is when the gentle bite steals the thought. When Lex kisses him again, exploring his mouth like it's brand new and wonderful, like Clark's candy and it's--God, he never wants to--

"Oh damn." Lex's hand's in his jeans again, pressing down, and Clark arches. "Oh God, what--"

"You wanted to know how I'd wake you up," Lex murmurs against his throat, then he's shifting up, hand pulled away in an act of complete unfairness, before wrapping around the worn waist of Clark's jeans.

"You mean I'm not awake yet?" He can't help grinning, hissing softly when Lex pulls down, lifting his hips just enough, and Lex's eyebrows raise in question. "Um. Underwear seemed kinda pointless."

"I like how you think." Lex grins down at him, like a kid who just stole some candy from the store and wants to share. "Like this."

Clark thinks he's ready for it, but even knowing doesn't stop him from arching when Lex swallows him smoothly, sucking wet heat and dreamy's gone, languor is gone, hell, his name's gone, too, but he's chanting something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like Lex's name.

His body's been aching and it takes no time at all. Warm fingers on his balls, weighing, caressing, and Lex is driving him faster, making him arch up and push and say 'please' and 'yes' and 'don't stop', before orgasm wipes out even that.

The couch is still lumpy, but Clark's pretty sure he's in love with it, especially when Lex crawls back up, pushing him more deeply into the cushions, and hey, Clark can get that spring fixed. Lex props himself up on one elbow, curling a finger in his hair, grinning still.

"There's something to be said for couches," Lex remarks, and Clark laughs and pulls him close, running his fingers up the hard lines of his back.

"Stay tonight. Here. With me."

A kiss is dropped on his forehead, almost chaste, but when Clark captures his lips, Lex tastes like Clark. "I'm not going anywhere."


Lex is cool and strangely distant in sunglasses and business clothes--Clark misses the soft feel of the linen shirt and how easily it came loose beneath his fingers the night before. But little glances remind him of Lex waking him up this morning, mouth on his stomach, wet and warm, and how Lex grinned up at him from underneath a worn tan comforter and soft cotton sheets.

"You okay?" Lex switches gears, giving him a look from behind the dark lenses that makes Clark laugh a little, sinking into the warm leather with a sigh.

"At my age, is it pathetic I'm scared of my parents?"

"You've never met Lois' mother, have you?"

Clark thinks about it, eyes widening as he remembers their few meetings. "I take that back. I just--I don't know how they feel about me--changing."

"You didn't tell them beforehand?"

Clark looks over. "I wasn't sure how they'd react."

Clark can see Lex worrying on his lip, obviously thinking hard. "That they wouldn't want you to go through with it?"

"That they might want me to." Running a hand through his hair, Clark wonders what's showing on his face. "I--I had to make this about me, not anyone else. I didn't even talk to Lois about it really, except to tell her when I left so she would--in case--"

"Yeah." Lex spares him from making it plain. So many things could have gone wrong.

"So--I mean, I talked to Mom on the phone once. I'm just glad this fall's so busy for them, otherwise they'd probably have come to Metropolis. Lois handled Mom while I was sick, so she doesn't know anything about that, just that I'm okay and getting used to everything still. They--they wanted me to come back for the adjustment period. You know, so I could be--" Clark stops, frowning. "They're still not happy I wanted to stay home."

Clark watches a road sign pass. Thirty miles to Smallville. At Lex's current speed, twenty minutes or less. Clark wonders how silly he looks, hell, how silly he sounds. He's a grown man--he's been out of Smallville since he was eighteen and starting college, and went from dorm room to apartment on his own. Not easy, no--and more than once, baskets of food had appeared at his apartment when his mom worked herself up into active worry about his eating habits--but he'd done pretty good on his own.

Well, the invulnerable son had, anyway, and Clark thinks he's doing pretty damn good now, since he's finally remembering to reach for potholders when he wants to get something out of the oven and that frying pan butter is hot and hurts a hell of a lot.

Lex's hand on his knee brings his gaze back up from its fix on the radio, now off. "Don't worry so much. They're your parents. Unless they've drastically changed since I met them, they'll just be happy you're happy." Little pause. "Do you regret your decision?"

Clark can hear both questions in the even cadence of Lex's voice and answers both. "Not once."

The silence is comfortable, and so is the hand on his knee--friendly, open, and he likes that. Likes that he can reach down and cover it with his, study again the fascinating contrasts of gold skin on pale.

"Do you ever--" Clark stops, biting the tip of his tongue. He doesn't know very much about the later relationship between Lex and his father, even less about his death. Frankly, he's never wanted to know--keeping up with Lex's other crimes was pretty much a full time job in itself, so he didn't go sifting the past that often to find anything else. But. "Do you ever wonder what your dad would have thought? Of you now?" It does make him wonder a little. His son's surpassed him in every way--LuthorCorp is a distant memory to most people, even in Smallville, dominated by LexCorp for so long that some can't even quite remember what it was like beneath the father. Lex has worked for that impression, too.

"That I didn't beat Alexander the Great's record."

Clark turns his head, looking at the tight line of his mouth. Maybe he isn't so weird in his parental fixation.

"Except Dad and a few other people, no one really remembers him," Clark offers, wondering if that's what Lex wants to hear. Wondering if there's anything that Lex could hear besides his father's voice. Those years of friendship, half-buried, drawn out only on bad nights, horrible nights when Clark needed something to hold onto, to remember something about Lex that isn't the conflict, the fighting, the anger, that implacable hate that Lex had turned on him the first time that had hurt so much he still wakes up remembering how it felt, running through every nerve like ice water.

"I remember," Lex says softly, and he says it like the subject's closed, hand pulling away, but Clark pushes down, trapping Lex's fingers against his jeans. Wondering if Lex will keep pulling and is surprised when he stops. "You know, I used to think you hadn't changed at all."

"Changed?" Lex has calluses on his fingers--tips from pens, papers, computers, his business life, but there are other places, too. His palms are hard, there's the broken line of his knuckles. Lex hadn't let Clark retape his wrist this morning, so Clark's been extra gentle.

"From the kid I met." Lex's gaze is fixed on the road, like he's trying to pretend he's not saying anything at all. "I used to wonder how anyone could--" Lex stops short, like he's said way too much, and Clark wonders what else Lex is thinking.

"You never really understood why I became Superman, did you?"

Lex doesn't answer for a few long seconds. "The skin changes, what's underneath doesn't, Clark. You were always Superman, even before I knew what else you were. I just never understood why you--" And this is obviously territory Lex has gone over before, if only in his head. "I never understood what made you do it."

"Save people?"

"Want to."

That's a question Lois asked him once--when Clark and Superman were still two different people, when Superman was still attracted to her and Clark was trying not to hate her, and wow, does that show some kind of serious psychosis?

"Because I could, I guess." He's never been able to work this out either. His parents think it's something in the Kryptonian genes--but then, his mom and dad have a kind of romanticized idea of Krypton and the standard is their son. He wonders how they would have reacted to some of the things he'd learned from the Fortress and shies away. "Because it was something--" He stops, thinking. "You know, in Smallville, it's not like I went out looking. It just--sort of fell in my lap. And it was my fault--"

Lex snorts something. "Yes, I know your opinion on genetic guilt, Lex. But--" Clark pushes a foot into the floor, watching it slide across the carpet. "Smallville was my home. I wanted it safe." Clark looks up, but Lex is staring at the road. "Don't pretend you don't understand."

"I don't--"

"I know you keep your people safe."

"I wouldn't put my life on the line to protect a stranger," Lex answers shortly, and the car speeds up, sudden and shocking, hitting one hundred.

"I never did either, not really."

At the flickering gaze, Clark wonders if he's ever really known Lex at all. "Lex--"

"We're in Smallville," Lex says, hand moving from his thigh to downshift into something approaching the speed limit. In a rush, everything he's about to face returns--Mom, Dad, vulnerability, this thing with Lex. Taking a deep breath, Clark leans back, watching the familiar farmlands coalesce around him, almost suffocating. He hasn't been here since he was Superman, too, and he wonders if it's just his imagination that everything looks so different.

Could be his shitty eyesight, though. He wishes he'd brought his glasses.

"Are you staying the night?" Lex asks in a carefully neutral voice.

"Um, no." That will piss off his parents a lot. "Work tomorrow. Are you?"

Lex gives him a slow smile. "Of course not. How would you get back to Metropolis?" His eyes go back to the road, smile still fixed in place. "Farm to the right, Clark. At the end of the driveway or right in the yard? I'm all for a grand entrance."

"You really like pissing off my dad, don't you?" Clark manages a grin from somewhere, but his stomach's turning over and there's a vague sense of unease.

"I really do." The smile widens into nothing friendly, and Clark's stomach clenches again, remembering a time Lex would have done anything to earn Jonathan's respect. Things change, he thinks.

"I have my cell phone. You just want to call--"

"Call me when you're ready to go home," Lex says, and he's turning in the driveway. Right. Because when Lex gives up on someone, he does it as completely as possible and with malice aforethought. Shove it in Jonathan's face that his son's lover is the one man Jonathan hates above all others.

Thank you, Lex. You've made this so much easier for me. Teeth clenched, Clark unbuckles his seatbelt and waits for the car to stop. He can see the front door open, his mom a bare outline behind the screen. Doubtless the human blockade keeping his dad from doing something stupid like getting the shotgun. "I'll call."

"Clark."

Clark looks back over, hand on the door. The sunglasses are off, and Lex is watching him. No one else would see the worry. Or the regret. "I can send someone else to get you. Gabe's still in town."

Clark has to think about it, and hates himself the second he realizes that's what he's doing. "No. I'll call. Be careful." Right, sheep for a lamb, so he leans over just enough, brushes a kiss over Lex's mouth, because he doesn't want to send him away like this, even if he probably deserves it. "Have fun terrorizing your employees."

"Right." Lex sounds a little surprised. "Don't worry, Clark. They love you."

"I know." Pushing the door open, Clark steps out. Mom can't hold Dad back forever, though it's an appealing thought. Pushing the door of the Porsche closed, Clark shoves his hands in his jacket pockets, suddenly feeling sixteen and waiting for his dad to tell him that getting too close to Luthors always equals trouble.

He was right, Clark reflects, feeling himself begin to grin as Lex vanishes down the driveway in a fit of dust and excessive horsepower.

Mom's on the porch by the time he gets to the stairs, coming down to engulf him in a hug that smells of yeast and cooking bread and peach marmalade. Sweet and warm and so home that it makes him ache. It makes him wonder why he doesn't come home more, just for a few seconds.

"Honey." She feels heavier than he remembers when he swings her up, making her gasp, and that makes him laugh, half-carrying her up the rest of the porch stairs while she giggles and hits his shoulders with floury hands, like so many times he's come back. It almost eases the nausea away.

Setting her down, he opens the porch door and she goes inside, wiping floury hands on her skirt before reaching out and drawing him in behind her. Dad's at the table, drinking coffee, looking some bizarre and uncomforting amalgamation of worry, anger, and frustration. Great. No one is going to make this easy.

This is why he doesn't come home so often. Dad looks like that a lot when they see each other.

"How are you, honey?" Mom says, looking him over like she expects visible change to erupt on his skin. Maybe a big tattoo saying Human Now! or something.

"Fine." Glancing at his dad, Clark debates sitting down or standing at the door looking uncomfortable. He can feel them both studying him even when he looks away. "How has everything been?"

"Busy," Dad says shortly, and Clark forces himself to follow his gaze, at the phone that's still off the hook. They may need to get a new phone number. "You look well, son."

"I'm fine." Do all men have this defensive thing going with their dads?

"Want some coffee, honey?" his mom asks, and it seems like a good idea, with the uncomfortable silence that's stretching around them. Clark nods, mouth dry, and he crosses to the table, gingerly taking a seat across from his dad.

"Lois and I are working on a new story," Clark breaks out desperately as the silence stretches. "I've been busy, so I haven't--"

"Had time to call home?" Dad's on his third or fourth cup by now. Clark can see it in the tension just below the skin. "Lois took some time to call and tell us how very busy you both were."

There's really nothing like guilt.

"Jonathan." Warning. Definitely. Mom slips the cup in front of him, adding a muffin and a spoon for the coffee. Clark thinks at this point some bourbon added as flavoring would be a great idea. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine. It's--it's fine." This morning, he cut himself with the razor for the first time. It stung, and the pattern of red drooling down his chin in the mirror had held his fascinated attention for a long time. He'd never seen himself bleed before. Absently his hand comes up to touch the tiny cut, almost invisible to the eye now, but he remembers the stillness when Lex had seen it, wiping the blood away with toilet paper and spraying it with some antiseptic spray from the cabinet. "I-I like it."

"Good, honey." There's worry in her eyes--there always has been, son and child always, but this is new. Her son was invulnerable, the dream child of anyone who has ever wanted children. Staring down at the table, Clark listens to the quiet sound of the leaky faucet, ever drop like an accusation from his dad. You're killing your mother, Clark.

More long silence, and he feels her cross behind him, pulling out a chair to sit down beside him.

There's a lot of questions in the room.

"Lex and I are dating," Clark says, and takes a drink of coffee. Waits.

"Yes. We found out from the Inquisitor," Dad bites out, and his coffee cup slams into the table. Mom should really cut back on his caffeine intake. "Since you didn't call to explain--"

Clark looks at his dad over the edge of his cup. "I don't have to explain, Dad. This is my life."

He slept badly last night. Imagining how this would go. Even with Lex curled around him, warm and solid, strong arm around his waist, fingers entwined like nothing else could matter. And in Metropolis, it doesn't. No one knows what Lex is, really. He, Lois, Chloe, a few other unfortunate people who get on the wrong side of a man who holds grudges with the tenacity and deadly anger of a pit bull. In the city, there's talk and articles and curiosity and laughter behind hands, maybe, but there isn't this.

Even Lois and Chloe don't know everything, but his parents--they do. They know almost everything he does, because when he needed to talk, they were here to listen. And he can remember every conversation, broken, furious, terrified.

"I don't understand," his father says slowly, and the anger underneath is so obvious that the words hurt to hear. Disappointment, too. "After everything he's done, after all these years--"

"I remember." Clark takes another drink of coffee. "Trust me, Dad, I remember everything."

"Then why? Explain this to me. Why would you involve yourself with someone who would have fucking dissected you if he got half the chance? You--what the fuck are you doing?"

Clark takes a breath. "I fell in love." His dad's mouth opens. "Before I could even legally do anything about it."

His mother's tiny gasp is the only sound. Clark forces his gaze to his father's face, forces himself to hold it. Waits for the comprehension, forces himself to keep looking when sick understanding takes its place.

"Is he the reason you did it?"

Clark takes another slow drink. It's like being invulnerable again. He knows the coffee's hot, but he can't feel a thing.

"No. But it might have been a reason I wanted to." Lois asked. Lex never has. His parents thought they knew. He wonders what they'd say if he told them what he'd felt, that when he went to the Fortress and stared at that Kryptonite, entire lives had flashed in front of his eyes. Every life he could have had, from age fifteen to now. Gripping the mug, Clark wonders if any one reason will ever be the right one, one they could understand accept. "I don't know what to tell you. I'm doing this. He's doing this. We're doing it. That's all there is to say about it."

"And Lois?" Shock's taken the color from his dad's voice, and he sounds--so old. Clark stares at the table.

"Lois never wanted me. Not like that. We're--" Clark breathes out, feeling his mother's hand rest lightly on his shoulder. "When I lost Lex--I couldn't talk to you about it. You--you were so happy. You thought you were right. You made it harder." His mouth feels dry, and he's saying this totally wrong. "You were right. But--" Clark tightens his lips. "Lois was--she took the place Lex left in my life. The friend and the mentor and everything that went along with it." Clark forces himself to take another tasteless drink of coffee. Still no burn. "She would never have taken advantage of that, Dad."

Just like Lex hadn't, either. Every crime he's ever committed, every wrong he's done, Clark balances it against that, that Lex never once crossed that line. No matter what he'd wanted, he'd been willing to wait for it.

"Do you seriously thinks he gives a crap about you?" Clark hates the way the words come out, hates the way they sound. "That you can--what, Clark, do you think you can change him now? That--"

"Yes. I know he cares. And I think I can."

It falls like a rock between them. The next drink empties the cup, and Clark stands up, needing something, anything, to do. The coffee pot's as good a place as any, and Clark keeps his back to his parents, the silent communication between them so thick he thinks if he looks he can read it in the air like script.

"Clark, it's not that we don't trust your judgement." Mom, careful, diplomatic in the way Dad isn't. It's tricked him before, the way she can do that. She believes what Dad does. "But now, you're--very--"

"Vulnerable?" Clark turns around, leaning into the counter. The mug would be broken if he was still invulnerable. But if he was still invulnerable, this conversation never would be happening. "Mom--" Clark swallows hard. "I've always been vulnerable. For this." His hands are shaking--the shock of hot coffee hitting his skin makes him almost drop the cup, putting it on the counter quickly and raising his hand to his mouth. His mom makes a wounded sound and Clark hates himself for giving her that look. She hasn't seen him injured in years. Pulling his hand down, he locks them behind his back. "This--isn't open for discussion, okay? I'm doing this. I--"

"Clark, baby." She can still hurt him with that voice. He's ten every time he hears it. "You--I think you're making a mistake."

"I'm old enough to be allowed to make them myself."

"He's a murderer," Jonathan says, and Clark can hear his own voice saying that into his pillow. Superman came back here a lot. "He's destroyed lives, people's homes, companies. You know this. You know everything he's done. He's crossed every line, everything we've taught you to believe, to cherish. You can't--"

"The first line he crossed was the one we pushed him over," Clark whispers. Even to himself, it hurts to say it. He knows his dad remembers Nixon with the first angry flush across his face, eyes flickering down.

"Clark--"

"If I can't have your--look, you don't have to like it. It's not like I'm expecting to bring him here every weekend or--" Clark cuts it off, seeing his mother's head go down, staring into her cup, and for the first time, he sees all the grey in her hair, washing forward to hide her face. "I--I want your acceptance, at least. I've done the thing with two separate lives and it sucked. I don't want to do that again."

For a second, Clark thinks that may have gotten through. Make this easier for me, he wants to say, but he doesn't, because he's never had it easy, not like Lex thinks, and he wonders how Lex would have handled what he considered the perfect family, the ideal he never really thought he'd be worthy of, never thought he could have.

"I can't, son." It's defeat, and it hurts. Hurts even though Clark thinks he must have expected it all along, because he knows his dad and he knows that, like Lex, Dad's grudges last just as long and die just as hard.

He finds himself standing there like the awkward teenager he hasn't been in years, and it could be any fight from his adolescence about Lex except it's nothing like any of them. The worst thing then was the fear that Dad would forbid him to see Lex, and he'd thought then that it couldn't get worse.

Of course, he hadn't known how much would have to change to stay so exactly the same.

"Okay." His mouth's dry and his heart's pounding, and there are things he could say, but he bites them back. About family and how love's supposed to be unconditional, but this isn't about whether they love him, he knows that. Nothing can change that, nothing ever will.

Blindly, he feels for the cellphone, but Lex is doing things, and it would only make things worse if Lex came here to get him now. He can't handle that, knows he can't. Patting it back down, he looks at his parents. "Okay. I--I have to go."

"Clark." Mom's on her feet, and it hurts him to see how much he's hurting her. "Clark, don't. Let's talk about this. Just--you and your father and I, we'll discuss it and I'll make dinner and--"

"This isn't a discussion," Clark says, and somehow, his hand's on the door. "I--I can't, Mom. You won't change my mind and I can't change yours and I can't--right now I just can't do this."

His dad doesn't say anything at all, sipping at an empty cup like he's forgotten what he's doing, and Clark hugs his mom quickly, wondering if he'll ever smell baking bread again and not get sick. Blindly, he lets go, pushing out the door, the cheery, cold afternoon like a slap in the face after the warm semi-dark of the kitchen.

"Clark, where are you going?"

Good question. An easy answer.

"Up to the castle. I'll--I'll call this week, okay?" Out of the yard, and he can't quite see very well, even worse than his usual bad vision, and he wipes his eyes, cutting across the driveway. It's only a few miles. Even a normal human wouldn't think that was too far to walk.

If he cuts through the fields like he used to when he was a kid, though, it'll still give him too much time to think, replay every moment in his head.

It'll be a lot of repetitions before he gets there.


Clark spends quality time exploring the castle.

Maybe it's because he's bordering so close to sixteen today, or maybe it's just that he needs the distraction, but when the housekeeper lets him in as if he's still the kid from down the road and leaves him to his own devices in the hall, Clark goes for a walk. He turns his cellphone off at the first ring, seeing his parents' number there like an accusation. Very Kent of him to walk out on a fight--he's like his dad that way. Mom likes to argue things out completely, but--

Not this time.

The differences between a house and a habitation were clearer back then, when he could see the traces of Lex's occupancy in the pens with the chewed caps in his office and the immaculate placement of rugs so Lionel wouldn't trip and fall. He remembers the office and the kitchen, the ballroom where Lex fenced, the armory, and the upstairs bathroom best. Lex's bedroom and the big adjoining one, too--Lex had once explained it was for a married couple, though back then, Clark really hadn't gotten why a married couple would want to sleep apart and be separated by two entire dressing rooms.

At least until he met Victoria, who used that room during her stay. Much easier to understand after that.

A long time ago, Lex had gotten a little drunk and taken him on a tour of the house--Clark thinks now it must have been a reaction to Lionel moving in and Hamilton doing his level best to fall apart as spectacularly as possible, but back then, it'd just been his friend Lex, who was bored and asked him to come over and play, in Lexian terms. They walked what seemed like miles of hallways in their socks, drinking rum and coke out of these huge plastic tumblers that Lex unearthed from somewhere, while Lex gave him a Scottish history lesson and how some ancestral Luthor had led an uprising against the lord of whatever. Kind of neat, because Lex made gestures like he was stabbing enemies with an imaginary sword and used a bad Scottish accent.

Clark thinks now Lex may have been playing out a scene from the Braveheart DVD they'd watched earlier that week, but he's not too sure.

There are lots of guest bedrooms--suites, Lex had called them. Some had their own little living room attached, as if even when there were guests you could make sure to have as little interaction with them as possible. A huge, glassy room that he vaguely remembers being called the solar is up next. Winter sunlight spills down on the floor and over Clark's shoes in pink-tinged gold, and Clark stands at the huge windows that overlook endless fields of corn, Lana's house in the distance.

If he stands very still, he's sixteen and in love with Lana Lang, watching her from a distance because close was a dirty word for a Kent back then, or at least, for Clark Kent. But when he closes his eyes and touches the stone, he remembers he was falling in love with Lex even then and didn't know it.

"Clark."

He's not even surprised. Or angry, though he thinks he should be.

"You had Mercy following me," Clark says, not opening his eyes. He listens to Lex, who's still walking with the slightest trace of a limp, come up behind him but not quite touching. Like they're both still kids and all those lines are still there.

They've both erased a lot of those since then, though, and Clark half-turns, watching Lex watch him.

"I told you that if I assigned you bodyguards, you wouldn't know about it," Lex answers mildly. He looks tired, and Clark thinks he sees a shadow of fatigue in the blue-grey eyes, but he can't be sure. Lex is so rarely tired. He breathes energy and action, even when he's at rest. "Mercy's skilled and extremely discreet."

"Did she follow me all the way to the castle?"

"Right through two cornfields, across a dirty road, and over the ridge," Lex says softly, still looking at him. "How did it go?"

Clark looks away. "You need to ask?"

"No. I just think you need to answer."

That's another difference. Lex used to let him off the hook a lot. Back then, he'd just thought he was that good a liar. Now, he thinks Lex just wasn't willing to push too hard.

"They said they can't--" Clark stops, taking a breath. "They can't accept. Us." With a shrug, Clark takes a step back to lean against the glass. It's thick, but it gives him a sudden sense of vertigo--he could fall if it broke. And he won't be able to fly. "They--" Clark stops, biting down on his lip. "It was pretty much a nightmare. That what you want to hear?"

"No." Lex turns his eyes briefly out the window, and Clark watches them fill with light, the clearest blue of a summer day, all captured in a single moment that makes Clark's breath catch. Like Lex is somewhere else entirely, somewhere Clark can't follow. "Give them time."

"It's not going to be that easy." Centuries, maybe. That might help. And Lex--Lex grins, looking at him again, the look fading away until Clark thinks he just imagined it.

"I know. But--Clark. Just trust me. A little time. After they've thought for a little while--I think it'll be okay."

And Lex says he is bizarrely idealistic.

"Wow, you're delusional. I should have known this, right?"

"Megalomaniac," Lex answers prosaically, and the grin flashes, bright and sharp, and Clark willingly pushes aside memory. He can think later. "Come on. The housekeeper made lunch and she's waiting desperately for someone to eat it. I think she gets bored out here."

Lex talks about the plant while they make their way to the kitchen. There are names he recognizes--Adam Henley, who'd been in his chemistry class and came back to Smallville to be the lead biochemist for Plant #3. Lizzy Stuart, the ditzy cheerleader who'd almost gotten herself killed by her boyfriend when he'd gotten a bad dose of meteorite testosterone, an accountant who's being transferred to Metropolis to head up the LexCorp accounting division. Some of the other employees, kids following in their parents' footsteps like every generation before them. Like Clark hadn't, when he'd chosen a career in journalism instead of on the farm.

"You like Smallville, don't you?" Clark says suddenly as they meet the stairs, and Lex gives him a startled look.

"Yes and no." A hand lightly runs down the edge of his jacket, removing non-existent wrinkles, before settling defensively on the banister. "I like what it symbolizes. Does that make sense?"

"LexCorp?"

The smile turns again, going inside--that feeling of Lex seeing something he doesn't. "I suppose that's as close to accurate a description as I could come up with. It's--the beginning. Everything I've done since--I see this when I do it. I see what I did here."

"Every person that I saved, I saw my parents, Lana, Chloe, my friends--you," Clark says quietly, staring at the bottom step, and he can feel Lex's startled attention. "I was thinking about what you asked me. Why I do it. Did it."

"Is that how it happens?" And strangely, Lex seems interested, and if it keeps him off the subject of this morning, Clark's all for it.

"I--think so." Coming to the bottom of the stairs, Clark leans into the banister, trying to think. "I--just did. It was something I had to do. Even if I didn't want to, even if I knew I'd fail, I had to try. They were always there. In every face I ever saw."

Lex nods slowly, like he's turning the words over in his head, filing them away for later study. Clark has to grin at that. So very Lex.

"You know, I don't think anyone's ever asked me that question before." And he's never really thought about it. He could, therefore he did. Which, honestly, might be something very close to how Lex thinks, even if they have directed it in totally different ways.

"Not even during the interviews?"

"No." Clark grins. "Not even the interview I gave myself."

"You're lucky Lois didn't castrate you for that," Lex answers with a chuckle, and Clark looks up, surprised by the flare of jealousy in the pit of his stomach. He can't be jealous. "You're responsible for about seventeen hundred dollars on Lois' Visa, if you're curious."

"She did dress really well for the next two weeks," Clark reflects, and Lex snickers softly.

"She took her temper out on me and Italian shoes, not you." Slim fingers brush his on the railing, settling naturally over his, and Clark shifts enough to turn his hand over, lacing their fingers together. "Are you hungry?"

"Not really." Hi stomach still isn't quite settled yet.

"Too bad. You're losing weight--you need to eat more. And Mrs. Lewis is an excellent cook."

"Tell me this is regular food," Clark answers, letting Lex pull him along behind him like a slightly obstinate pet.

"It is. Relax."

The housekeeper's waiting when they walk in the kitchen, looking unreadable and as close to excited as Clark can imagine a person being without managing to show it at all. There's sandwiches with the crusts cut off and salads and bottles of familiar water that make Clark laugh.

This is--good. Clark kicks Lex under the table when Lex starts studying the ham for quality, then they both grin and eat.


Lex doesn't leave him alone again, taking Clark with him back to the plant, refusing to let him sit around the castle and brood, and he can't even say he protested very hard. He hasn't been here in years, and it all looks different but exactly the same, right down to the room where he and his classmates were held hostage and he watched Lex act like an immortal moron.

"That is still the dumbest thing I've ever seen," Clark says while Lex checks something on a console with a little frown.

"What?"

When Lex looks up, Clark motions in general around the room. "That thing you did with the removal of the vest and all."

"Not so stupid," Lex answers calmly, like they're discussing stock options. "I had perfectly good reason to think I'd survive."

Unless he was aware his dad had sealed the plant, that is, but Clark's still not entirely sure how much Lex really knows about that part.

"Okay, give me your reasons."

Turning around, Lex leans into the console, arms crossed. "One, I had a destiny--"

"Oh, right. That turns back bullets. I totally forgot."

Lex doesn't appreciate his humor. Few do, really. Clark's beginning to think it may be him. "You want to hear this or not?"

Grinning, Clark nods, trying to look attentive. "Of course I do."

"Two, his aim was for shit. He'd have been lucky to hit a barn at five paces. Three, and most importantly, I knew, even if no one else did, that unless it was point blank to the head, I'd survive it." Lex gives him a smug smile.

"You didn't know back then just how fast you could heal."

Lex shrugs. "Let's say after over a decade of living the life of the young, rich, and perpetually bored, I had a pretty good idea that something was keeping me alive besides dumb luck." Lex gives the room a glance, eyes narrowing thoughtfully, like he's reviewing the past for strategic flaws. Clark would say the drop of the bullet-proof vest was one, but he gets the feeling Lex might not. "Besides, worst case scenario didn't happen."

Clark nods slowly. "Did you ever blame me for that?"

Surprised Lex. Always interesting. "For what?"

"I could have stopped the leak, got everyone out, and done it in, like, minutes. Instead, you had to come down, do that song and dance for trading, and then get dangled off a catwalk." Wow, when he says it like that, it really does sound bad. He can almost hear his dad's voice beginning to reply, but he cuts him off. Even in his head, Clark's not up to facing his dad again today.

When he looks at Lex again, he sees that thoughtful strangeness. More than Lex deciding guilt or innocence--in the world of Lex, that's a split second and highly subjective decision--but as if he's replaying events again, this time in slow motion.

"No." Pushing off the console, Lex hits a few keys as if at random, then straightens. "I never really thought about it."

Oh great. Way to go, Clark. Any other moments he should bring up? The multiple concussions, maybe, or the fact it was years before Lex really understood the concept of the meteor-mutant?

"Hey." Hard fingers push his chin up. "Guilt doesn't suit you."

"You'd be surprised. I think it's my defining quality." He's used to it, but this one's always been particularly special to him in some way. Maybe because it's what he uses when he thinks of the Lex that was his best friend, who could have been so very different from the well-dressed and quietly ruthless man before him. For years, when he needed the good memories like water, like air, this is what he'd had. The ones where Lex wasn't Luthor at all but was, too, in all the right ways.

"You couldn't reveal yourself, Clark. Even I know that." With a little shake of his head, Lex takes another step, warm presence almost but not quite touching, only those long fingers connecting them. "If you must feel guilty, try that time in China when you took down my black market cartel. That pissed me off." Clark hears himself choke out a laugh. "And cost me so much money in jurors. You really have no idea."

"I'm so sorry I spoiled your arms trading," Clark answers with a grin, and Lex kisses him, slow and careful, maybe like he would have if they'd been alone in the elevator that day, riding back up to civilization and safety. "Where are you going to be tonight?" he asks when Lex pulls back slowly, wet mouth and dark eyes. It's a shock to realize that he hasn't slept alone since their second date. That he's so used to it now that he really can't quite imagine giving that up.

Lex is very, very addictive.

"Wherever you are." Smiling a little, he reaches down, taking Clark's hand, and Clark remembers the security cameras suddenly, looking around. X-ray isn't possible, but he forgets that for a second. "What--oh, the cameras." Lex motions to the console behind him. "I had them disabled. Standard operating procedure." The smile turns mischievous. "Nothing to be used in a court of law."

"Clever."

"I think so, too." Moving their joined hands, Lex rubs lightly into Clark's jeans, making him hiss. "Also, other useful and completely legitimate reasons for not wanting to be taped."

"Right," Clark breathes. "But--"

"Hmm?" The kiss that skims his jaw steals the words but not the thought. Clark shakes his head quickly, unable to move away with the console behind him, and moving forward feels so good he might not ever stop.

"Not--not here."

"Sexually inhibited at your age?" The hot breath against his ear makes Clark shudder, like the back of Lex's hand, rubbing firmly down the buttons on his jeans. "Really, Clark. I thought--"

"Dammit, Lex...."

"Car?" Harder press and Clark tries not to arch into it.

"Are you still a teenager or something?"

"My cars are sexy, Clark. You said it yourself. Having sex in one can only make it better."

Rolling his eyes, Clark straightens, almost sighing when Lex pulls their hands away. His body doesn't get why here isn't a great place, and right now isn't on the agenda.

"Don't you have to finish your inspection?"

Lex takes a step back, the heat still flaring in his eyes, in the way he smiles back. "I finished before Mercy called me. The manager knows his job. I just came back to check up on some paperwork" Another step back, pulling Clark gently with him toward the door. "I'm free for the afternoon. With a very, very fast car."


He ends up falling asleep before they even get out of Smallville--a bad night combined with too much emotion, maybe, but it still shocks him when he feels the car come to a stop and Lex's hand on his shoulder, waking him up.

He'd swear he only closed his eyes to listen to the sound of the corn in the fields. In the cool darkness, he can hear the faint sounds of Metropolis at night, blaring horns and traffic a buzz in the background.

"Where--"

"Home," Lex says, then stops, a little smile lighting up his face. "Penthouse, to be exact."

Clark tries to straighten, surprised by the cramping in his back and neck--at some point, the seat had been tilted back, but no Porsche on earth was meant to be slept in. Stretching a little, Clark looks around the private garage, blinking in surprise.

"I slept three hours?"

"One forty-five. You looked like you needed it."

"That's averaging over a hundred miles an hour," Clark says blankly as Lex hits the locks, undoing his seatbelt to get out.

"Aren't you glad you were sleeping for that?" Another mischievous smile, then Lex gets out, and Clark could swear he's humming something that's tuneless and faintly creepy. Lex has terrible pitch and a singing voice that Clark would swear is a meteor mutation designed for the destruction of eardrums. Getting his seatbelt undone, he reaches for the door only to find it open, Lex waiting patiently on the other side. He looks far too pleased with himself.

"You get my objections to living together still stand, right?" Even to himself, he sounds petulant and grumpy. He's not at his best right when he wakes up.

"If I'd heard ones that make sense, I'd say yes. Come on." Narrowing his eyes, Clark gets out, letting Lex close the door. "Clark. I just didn't think you'd want to go to your apartment right now. That's all."

Go back--right. Parents might call--no, his mom will. Options being screen and hear their voices, unplug the phone and let voicemail pick them up while looking on, knowing he's deliberately ignoring them, or--being able to not be around the phone at all. They wouldn't call the penthouse. He's pretty sure they don't even have the number.

"What are we doing?" Clark asks as they come to the elevator.

"It's early yet. I was going to put you to bed and consider the conquest of eastern Asia for the rest of the afternoon, but if you have a better idea, feel free." The smile's so bright that Clark's breath catches in his throat--young and mischievous and strangely free. Like this is the Lex that he met, that could have been. Clark wants to touch it, somehow, burn it deep into his memory so he never sees anything else. Following him into the elevator, Clark fights the urge to touch him. "Clark?"

Clark blinks, remembering the way he looked in the castle. "Just. Um. Tired and all. Rest sounds good."

"You didn't sleep well last night," Lex answers, and Clark's surprised. He hadn't been aware Lex knew. Without even thinking about it, he reaches out, taking Lex's hand, closing his eyes briefly and leaning a little when Lex pulls. There's some part of him that shivers when Lex lets him touch so casually, even when it's not casual at all.

"I could go for days without sleep," Clark answers without opening his eyes. "Just--before I changed, I didn't even get tired. It scared me. I'd go to bed and stare at the ceiling and nothing would happen."

"Clark--" The fingers tighten in his. "It's okay."

Clark thinks of his parents and their inability to ever understand. He knows that, he thinks, he has to have known that when he did this.

"I--" It's so hard to explain, impossible, maybe. Lex's hand on his face turns him enough for their eyes to meet.

"Tell me."

"It's--I couldn't take it." It's a whisper that he can barely hear, even in the silence of the elevator. "I was awake all the time and when I fell asleep, it wasn't--it didn't even feel real. I used to--" Clark stops, remembering the start of panic then. The way it'd begun to take over his life. "I'd turn up the television and I'd still hear everything. It was like--it was like the day never ended. There was light and dark and there was work and there was Lois to break it up, but there wasn't anything else. It just--went on, and it--I was scared." Breathing out, Clark bites into his lip, liking the pain that follows, liking even more the metal-edge of blood. His blood. "You didn't ask why I did it. You thought it was Lois. I thought--I thought I was going crazy. I thought there wasn't another way."

Lex is quiet, thoughtful, as the elevator door slides open, leading Clark out without any word at all, and he wonders if Lex could understand. Lois tries--she was with him enough of those nights, her own energy flagging, understanding finally how his never did. How it felt to be that awake all the time, and it was like he'd read being high was and it makes sense it makes people go crazy like that.

The penthouse is dark and quiet, broken only by the voices of the help, taking his coat. Clark doesn't even look up, listening to Lex give orders in a low, controlled voice, simply following because it's easier. He's remembering the last few weeks, when everything was all action--saving here and there, work, Lois watching him with worried eyes and that sharp line that never left her forehead when she looked at him, and the way her sharp tongue softened that scared him most of all. He didn't know what she saw, but it scared him when he looked in a mirror.

He was supposed to save everyone and he couldn't even save himself.

Lex pushes him down on something--the bed, Clark thinks a little vaguely--hands pulling his shirt away, pushing him back. Stripping him with relentless gentleness, and Clark closes his eyes completely and just lets him--so good to give up control, aware that if the point was pushed, he couldn't take it back even if he tried. He's lived his entire life in that place where nothing could ever hurt him, nothing could force him that wasn't his own choice.

"Is that why you did it?" Lex whispers, almost harsh, and Clark nods against the blankets, eyes closed.

"You always said--you remember? About how one day I'd snap and try to take over? I started to think you were right. I might. I could snap. I got so tired in every way but the one that would have made it easier. I just--"

"I was wrong." Hard hands on his thighs, stroking gently. "I was wrong, Clark."

Clark grins but doesn't open his eyes, listening to Lex quietly slipping off shoes and socks, moving around the room but never too far away. Returning finally, and Clark shifts enough to let him sit down beside him. When he opens his eyes, it's on darkness--curtains and blinds drawn shut, human eyesight adjusting to only mark the shades of grey, like the man beside him, breathing quietly.

"What if you weren't? What if--" Clark stops, staring at the ceiling. It's comforting not to be able to see anything else. "I felt it in myself--I started to think sometimes how much easier it would be if I could just--" He can't go there. He won't. That's past, even that last fear, the one he couldn't admit to anyone. He never has to worry about that again.

"An employee shot me in the head," Lex says, and Clark shivers, turning on his side. Lex, cross-legged and calm, is sitting unreadable in the dark. Reaching out, Clark touches one wool-covered knee. "Point blank, ten months ago. Cassius operated. He's an excellent doctor, you have to understand. He's probably the best in the world now. He saved my life. But he couldn't have saved someone normal, no one could have. Nothing could have."

Clark's breath catches a little, and he starts to speak, but the tension of the knee beneath his hand stops him. Then Lex's hand covers his. Beneath the human-feeling flesh, this one has the metal that makes Lex's artificial hand.

"I let the cancer spread. I ignored it until I met Cassius and he saw it. Chemotherapy and radiation, amputation. Cassius did to me what no other human could have survived. I think that was my last chance."

"To what?"

"To die."

Clark sits up with a rush of vertigo, grabbing for Lex's hand. "Lex--"

"I don't know what it would take. Mercy and Hope snapped my neck once. In training. They aren't afraid to fight me, Clark, because they know nothing they can do will kill me. Fast or slow, it always fixes itself. This is what I wanted when I was a kid. I wasn't specific enough, though. When you're a kid, you don't think that way. You don't think that being able to heal from everything doesn't mean you don't hurt, too." Clark shudders at the strangely flat sound of Lex's voice. The implications alone try to overwhelm his mind, but he pushes them back. "I think--I think I can survive anything now. I think about the forest fire in Brazil sometimes--you remember, don't you? The one started by the squatters and you had to actually rescue my people because it threatened LexCorp property. I was there on a business trip. I watched you and wondered if I walked out there, stood in it long enough, if it could kill me, or if I'd wake up in a hospital while I healed again, from every burn, inch by inch, without even a scar. If I'd even--"

"God, stop--" Clark knows he's clamped down far too hard on Lex's knee, but the strangely bleak, dreamy voice doesn't stop.

"That I really could survive anything. Even when I don't want to."

"Jesus."

The hand on his closes around his wrist, tight, hard, like Lex wants it to move away, but then gentles. "I thought you'd do it. That you were the only one that could. That if anyone could find a way, you would."

"Son of a bitch." Clark turns, hands going to Lex's shoulders. In the dark, he can feel the eyes fix on him like a weight. "There's nothing you could have done that would make me kill you."

He can almost feel Lex's smile, slow and dark. "Think about what I could do, Clark. Think about who I am. And ask yourself what it would have taken."

Clark doesn't. Doesn't because he can't, because he doesn't want to, because in this one thing, he thinks he knows. "There are some things you wouldn't ever do."

"I might." But the strange bleakness is gone. "It's academic theory now. You're not an option anymore."

Clark shudders. He wonders how close Lex has come, if they'd both hit something terrible and impossible with what they were. Clark opted out. He has no idea how Lex could. Not if he's right. And he's pretty sure now that Lex is.

"Lex--" He stops. "You've never wanted to be ordinary."

The little laugh could draw blood it's so sharp. "When I was thinking extraordinary, I wasn't contemplating this either." Lex starts to shift away, but Clark holds on. "Let me go, Clark."

Clark grins, knowing Lex can't see him. Shifts his grip enough to be a touch that Lex could get away from easily if he tried, stroking over the soft cloth of his shirt. "Never again."

"Clark--" The edge in his voice is real, and so is the tension. Clark doesn't let go.

"Don't, Lex. Just--don't." Lex lets him touch, passive when he runs his hand down smooth shoulders, hard arms, to the hands resting quiescent on his knees. Holding there, closing his eyes to listen to them both breathe. "Us. You and me. This is what you wanted when we met. It's what I wanted before I knew what to call it."

The only sound is their breathing, loud and fast and vulnerable.

"You know why I had to do this, don't you?" Clark says, and it's like something totally new, too, though maybe if anyone could, Lex would understand best. "In those labs Cassius runs--"

"Yes."

Clark lets the words come out. They're so much easier than he ever expected. "You know I love you, right?"

It comes like a shock, when Lex's hands pull out from under his, but they only find his face effortlessly, like Lex can see in the dark, drawing along the line of his jaw, gripping hard enough to feel, like he couldn't move away if he tried. And Lex's eyesight isn't much better than his, but he's being studied, because Lex is Lex and he thinks everything has to have a battle that he has to win.

"Clark." He says it in a way Clark's never heard before, never heard anyone's voice before.

"I love you," Clark answers, even though he doesn't think there's a question. "I loved you when you were my friend, when you were my enemy, when I hated you, and when I fought you. Nothing's ever changed between us but our battlefields." He can almost feel Lex's head snap up, feel the arguments beneath that he won't try to use because he knows they won't work, they don't apply. He wants to laugh, just tell Lex that it really is simpler now, and he just hadn't gotten it. "You know that."

This he could never have explained, even to Lois, to his parents. They'd never understand the dichotomy that two identities had created in his head, that Lex and Smallville and Metropolis had solidified into fact. He curls his hands on Lex's knees and waits.

Waits until Lex's hands loosen, soften, touching now like they've never done it before. Like Lex has never touched anyone before, like this is something new that's never been done. He shivers when finger brush against his ears, sliding behind, through his hair. Thumbs gentle over his forehead, down the sides of his face, pressing into his cheekbones, jaw. The soft trace of his mouth, gentle and soft, pressing along the line of his lips.

Pulling back, but only for a second, for a shift of the bed before Lex is sitting on his lap, and the kiss is the first of both their lives. Soft and light, tentative and careful, like Lex has never kissed anyone before and is learning as he goes.

Pulling back, breathless and hard and wondering, he can feel it in every touch even if he can't see it. Clark reaches back, scrabbling behind him for the covers, smooth and thick, the soft sheets underneath.

"Take a nap with me before dinner?" Clark asks, shifting back, unwilling to let go. They curl up like kids under soft sheets, and Clark draws Lex close, closing his eyes at the brush of silky skin against his chin, warm breath against his throat.

The tension melts by inches, and Clark thinks, drowsily, falling under the spell of warmth and safety and peace, that Lex might have needed rest as much as he did.


The housekeeper's voice wakes Clark up--he almost sits up, but the hand on the back of his head stops him, and he realizes he's spread across Lex's lap, one arm locked around his waist.

"Tell Benny that Clark will get back to him tomorrow," Lex is saying, and Clark groans into the fine wool. "I'll want the car in about an hour. Thank you, Doris."

"Yes, sir." She floats out, quiet and capable, the door closing noiselessly behind her. Clark rolls enough to look into Lex's face.

"Avoiding Cassius?" Lex asks, and Clark sighs, fixing his gaze on the ceiling.

"Yes. I am avoiding him. I'm avoiding Cassius and my parents and Chloe and, well, you know, everything." Clark bites his lip at Lex's interested look. "Come on. It's just--"

"If he thinks it's important enough to look for you here, you should see him." Lex's face doesn't betray worry, but that doesn't mean anything, especially when gentle hands are smoothing back his hair. "I'm going to go take a shower." Clark sits up, letting Lex move, shifting on the bed. "Decide what you want to do for dinner."

Lex disappears into the bathroom and Clark reflects that there are things he should be doing. His pants are on the floor, but God alone knows where his coat is. Right, Doris took it. Crawling out of the bed, he runs a hand through his hair and pads to the door, pushing it open. He knows the layout of the penthouse, so--

"Can I help you, Mr. Kent?" Doris. Huh. Clark forces himself not to flinch at the suddenness of appearance beside him, rubbing his eyes briefly.

"Um, yeah. My coat--"

"I'll get it, sir." She disappears in a flash of Estee Lauder's Beautiful and crisp, rustling linen.

Sir. Still strange to hear it. He doesn't feel like a sir. Feeling stupid, Clark wonders if he's supposed to follow her or stay where he is or--something. At the castle, Lex had had minimal servants and Clark hadn't had that much interaction with them. Here, though....

Leaning into the doorway, Clark tries to clear the sleep from his head. Cassius. Right. Have to talk to the man, because he has something important to tell him. Important that could mean anything. You're dying, Clark, your body's rejecting this entire humanity thing. Let's find a way to get you back to alien and unhappy, 'kay?

Though really, wouldn't Cassius have told Lex something if it were that urgent? Patient confidentiality be damned.

He's really not up to thinking about this right now. Wiping his forehead, he opens his eyes to see Doris holding out his coat, like she's been standing there forever just waiting for him to notice.

Damn, this woman is creepy.

"Thanks," he says, taking it and turning back to the bedroom. Shutting the door, Clark finds his cellphone, turning it on and scrolling through the messages. Mom, Mom, Mom, Cassius, great, thanks, Mom, Lois.

Clark clicks on that and checks the number. Of course she'd call right after he turned off the cell phone. Because that's the kind of luck he has.

Going back to the bed, Clark sits down, laying back on the warm, rumpled blankets that smell vaguely of him and Lex--a comforting smell that he turns into with a smile.

"*Smallville. I think I know what's going on.*" Well, that's good. Clark rolls back on his back. She sounds almost gleeful, like the time Macys' accidentally marked down all it's winter boots ninety-five percent off. "* Jimmy got arrested two days ago for breaking and entering, the moron. I'm going to bail him out now. Call me when you get this message. I need you to check with the Fortress on something, but if I'm right, all those figures you have, that they've been announcing? Completely wrong. Get back to me. It looks like we were right--this is going to be the Smallville meteor shower all over again. Call me now.*"

Oh fuck.

Clicking off the phone, Clark sits up, staring at the phone. The meteor shower all over again. He wonders if Lois already contacted the Justice League. Probably before she called him. Growling, Clark slams the phone down.

And Lex is involved. Oh fuck twice.

The bathroom door slides open with a cloud of steam and Lex walks out, terry-cloth robed and really way too sexy for Clark's current peace of mind.

"The meteor shower is dangerous, isn't it?"

Lex's hesitation is so brief that Clark almost wonders if it was real or just him looking for guilt. Lex finishes crossing the room, giving the phone a brief look of interest, before fixing on Clark's face.

"Yes, but not in the way you're thinking." Shaking his head, Lex rubs briefly with a towel before tossing it to the floor. "I told you it didn't concern you."

"Tell me now."

Lex grins at him briefly before disappearing into the closet. Oh fuck. Getting up, Clark follows, phone clutched tightly in one hand. Lex, naked and slightly drier, is contemplating his wardrobe with an intense expression. This is just ridiculous.

"Lex, what the fuck are you doing?"

A quick flicker of blue eyes.

"It's not more Kryptonite--so far as I've been able to ascertain."

"You're the expert now?"

Lex grins. "You've worked out I've got the astrophysics expert Rhinestadt and the medical expert Cassius on it, right? Good. Then yes, at this point, I am."

Clark leans into the doorway, watching Lex pick up and discard a pale mauve shirt with a little frown. He's way too calm about this. "Okay, so what is it?"

"That's the problem. We're not entirely sure. The usual metal/mineral compounds, some interesting non-identifiables just for kicks, but since human space travel is well behind what one would hope, it's not like I have samples to work with." Silvery-grey long sleeve t-shirt--Clark hasn't seen Lex in one of those since he left Smallville. Dropping the robe, Clark gets a mouth-drying glimpse of naked Lex before he lays the shirt aside and rummages for boxers. "This is actually funny--"

"Lex." Clark stares at him, trying not to notice the pale lavender-grey boxers as they slide on, clinging softly as Lex turns around to look at him. "You don't do research like this unless--I mean, how long have you known?"

"I knew two years ago. NASA's desperately underfunded in actually being able to track the entire sky. I had personal reason to be--more curious." A flash of teeth. Yeah, Lex is amused as hell. "It was--academic." Lex shakes his head, still smiling. "Your origins always interested me, Clark. So don't be surprised when on the same basic trajectory, I noticed that something was coming at us."

Clark feels something in his head click, but Lex's voice drowns it out. "So, I hired on Rhinestadt. He agreed to work for me if he got exclusive access to my files on Superman--his favorite hobby on earth is you, you know. It was a small enough price to pay. I got the best mind in the world and most of his students, and he got to play in my labs, which are better than anything the government would allow him access. Cassius and I negotiated how much information he'd get on the meteor mutants, and--well, Rhinestadt agreed with me when he had all the data."

Clark nods slowly. "Why all the government intervention then?"

Lex shrugs. "This was--is--a national concern. Rhinestadt read LexCorp's ecological reports, the government's ecological reports, and noticed the high disparity between. He thought the government needed to be contacted." Soft dark slacks slide on, and Clark watches Lex studying the collection of belts carefully. "Let's say negotiations for how much information I wanted revealed on Kryptonite took a very--long time." Lex pauses, looking at him, no smile. "As you once said, there are some lines I won't cross, but I don't entirely trust other people not to. Rhinestadt and I worked out a compromise, I got government funding, and that's about the end of the story."

Clark stares down at his phone. "Why the secrecy?"

"Because I'm not the only person who made the connection between Kryptonite and meteor mutations. I'm just the one who has enough money and power to do what I like with the information. I prefer to keep my monopoly."

"And the secrecy now?"

Lex's eyebrows raise. "There isn't any. If Rhinestadt is right, then this isn't quite garden variety meteorites, but it won't be ecologically devastating, nor any more dangerous to humans in any way that a normal meteor shower would have been. To release earlier would have been--tricky."

"You mean if it was Kryptonite, you wanted to be the only one to know about it and to get hold of it."

"That, too." The grin's so bright Clark almost smiles back. "Clark. You've known about my research for years. Tell me you're surprised that I'd do everything possible to keep this a secret."

Actually--no. Clark thinks on what Lois told him. It--makes sense. At least, in Lex's view, and Lex would hide anything that looked even vaguely useful to himself for worry that someone else might get it before he did. So that fit. A big shower of Kryptonite, more for Lex's research, and so few people understood the implications. Clark's with him on the government really understanding what it was, besides Superman's biggest bane.

"I--"

"There's also the monetary concerns," Lex goes on, as if Clark hadn't said anything. Clark's head snaps up. "I was given a--certain amount of leeway for collection of whatever fragments would survive earth's atmosphere. Whatever it is, Rhinestadt and I have first crack at it, as long as we share results. Which of course, being a good citizen, I will." Lex makes a softly satisfied sound. "Considering Rhinestadt is certain some of the compounds are completely alien to earth--" Lex trails off, eyes going unfocused. "Who knows what the hell might be in it."

"It might be dangerous." Clark's fingers itch for his computer.

"The current calculations say it'll hit the arctic. The science station you interviewed--remember? Your supposed reason for going up there?" At Clark's slow nod, Lex continues. "They're close to ground zero. You asked what they were studying, but you didn't ask the right questions. They were assigned there specifically for this purpose. They'll be first on the scene to find out what we're dealing with."

"The people--"

"If you try to trot out freedom of the press, Clark, I'll remind you they have the right to know who Superman is too, and it hasn't stopped you from hiding it." Lex picks out a belt, checking the leather carefully. "This is mine, Clark. I've worked for it for two years to make sure of it. No one's taking this away from me, even you."

This is one of those times Lex's possessive instincts make Clark wonder why on earth someone didn't arrest Lionel for child abuse, just on principle. Sighing, he stares at the far wall of the closet.

"I want Lois and I to have the exclusive on what's found."

Lex looks up, obviously surprised. "Clark. Killer instinct. I'm impressed."

"No, I just want to make sure you tell everything, and Lois and I are better than most at figuring it out." Pushing off the doorway, Clark rubs his temples. Lois is in Atlanta right now, getting Jimmy out of jail and writing something up. It might be in the Planet tomorrow. "Lois' already figured this out, you know."

Lex--freezes. No other word for it. Hand still holding the belt, no other sign of anything before completely unreadable blue eyes meet Clark's.

"In other words, this will be all over the papers tomorrow."

"She'll probably wire it to Perry tonight," Clark answers. Lex stares into him like he's looking for a lie. A hoped-for one.

"Fuck."

"And there's no way in hell you can pay off The Daily Planet." One of the many reasons Clark had chosen to work there.

Lex's eyes unfocus--Clark can almost see the desperate calculations going on, but this is Lois and Lex has got to know nothing will stop her. Mouth tightening, Lex finally threads the belt through his pants, head going down.

"You'll still be ahead," Clark offers, not liking the silence. A silent Lex is a plotting Lex, and a plotting Lex is a very bad thing.

"I knew it would get out," Lex says slowly, buckling it on. "Just not--I thought I'd have more time." Looking up, he sighs, shaking his head. "And you'd be pissed if I had her killed, wouldn't you?"

Clark lets his eyes narrow just a little. "I'd believe it if it wasn't Lois we were talking about."

The look he gets is a little disgusted. "You have far too much faith in my sentimentality. Let me get some shoes. Go--take a shower."

Clark hesitates, watching Lex for a few more minutes as the man looks for shoes. Something's niggling in the back of his head, because he knows Lex doesn't give up, not ever, not for anything.

"Clark, she's been in Atlanta since yesterday. She questioned several of my employees." Lex looks up, smiling slightly at Clark's surprise. "Please. If I really wanted her dead, she would be. Earlier just means I'll have to move faster." Lex's head tilts, watching him with unreadable eyes. "This is the part where we try this thing we haven't before, known as trust."

Yes, trust. Trust Lex won't do anything stupid, and Clark wonders if he can seriously balance Lois' life like that. But--he knows Lex. Lex plays with lives like toys, but Lois is Lois, and Lex loved her and still respects her.

"All right." Stepping out of the doorway, Clark hesitates. "I'll only be a few minutes."

Lex waves a hand at him, picking out a pair of trouser socks. "Take as long as you like. We're in no rush."

Lex's full attention goes toward his shoes, and Clark glances down at the phone still in his hand. Okay. He can--just check.

Once the bathroom door closes between them, Clark calls Lois' phone. He gets voicemail, not comforting at all. Leaving her a short message to call him, Clark calls the office--if Lois has anything, she'd have called in and gotten someone ready to pick up the wire. Mary, Perry's assistant, answers, and yes, she talked to Lois only a few minutes ago.

Clark thanks her and gets off the phone, taking a slow breath. So. That's that. What Lex was doing will be in the papers tomorrow morning at the latest.

He takes a short shower, coming out into the empty bedroom to see far too familiar clothes on the bed. His clothes, to be exact. Ones that were in his apartment today. Clark wonders if Lex has had a key all along or just had one made since they started their thing.

There's something vaguely creepy about Mercy or Hope going through his underwear drawer, though, and he picks up the boxers with a little sigh. Nice pants, the ones he wears when he goes to lunch with important contacts or on interviews. Remembering Lex in his very casual shirt, Clark wonders exactly what Lex has in mind for tonight.

"Clark? Dressed yet?" Clark turns around way too fast, aware he's flushing, and Lex's eyes slide down his body very slowly and very, very deliberately. The boxers that Mercy or Hope took from his drawer--and he really doesn't want to think about that--don't hide a thing. When Lex reaches his face again, his eyebrows raise in query. "I'm guessing not."

"Funny." And right, it shouldn't be weird to get dressed with Lex watching him, but--Lex is watching him. Like this is the most interesting show ever and he can't miss a second. Clark's flushing like a teenager and fumbling clothes, and for some arcane reason his fingers refuse to remember how to button pants.

"Let me help." Almost a purr, and Clark lets go, watching silently as Lex carefully fastens the button with deliberate flicks of his fingers, then pulls up the zipper. Slowly. Gritting his teeth, Clark holds very still, aware of the press of his erection against the fabric, ruining the line of his pants. "Need help with your shirt, too?"

"You want to dress me?" Bizarrely hot, that. In some way that his brain won't even completely accept.

"Almost as fun as undressing you." Lex gives him a slow smile, then reaches for the shirt. "Arms, Clark?"

See, he hadn't been serious. Except--it's hot, just to close his eyes, let Lex smooth the material over his head, hands sliding slow and easy across his chest, fixing the cuffs around each wrist. Hands closing on his hips, jerking him closer, and Clark tilts his head down for the equally slow, lazy kiss.

And Lex pulling away is just wrong.

"Sit down. Socks."

Edging back, Clark sits down, picking them up and handing them over as Lex crouches. "Tell me you didn't send Mercy to my apartment to pick out my underwear."

"I didn't. She has execrable taste. Why do you think I personally choose her clothing?" One sock on, fingers stroking his bare ankle as he pulls it up. Clark shivers.

"Then I don't want to know."

Lex snickers softly as he pulls on the next sock, and Clark tries to ignore how the hard fingers seem to press all the right nerves on the way up. "Are you going to ask where we're going?"

Clark breathes out carefully as Lex moves on to shoes. Non-sexy shoes. Or shouldn't be sexy, yet they are, especially with Lex sliding each on his foot like he's perfecting some piece of art. Looking up, the blue eyes hold Clark's.

"I--" Clark licks his lips. "Going out?"

"That's not a question, but yes, we are." Rising smoothly to his feet, Lex extends a hand, fingers wrapping in Clark's as naturally as if they've been doing it for years. "Come on."


The first thing Clark notices is the fact only Mercy is shadowing them. He's getting used to the idea of it, but he's also getting used to the idea of not, well, seeing her.

"Clark?"

Clark shrugs as they arrive in the garage, stepping out into the warmth. Of course Lex would never allow a garage he owns to be cold. "Nothing. Just wondering where Hope is."

"She had a little accident," Lex answers, and Clark turns curious eyes on Lex as he unlocks the Aston Martin. "Nothing too serious, but Cassius wants to keep her for observation."

"Accident?" Clark rewinds, remembering watching them fight that day in Lex's building.

"She ate something that disagreed with her," Lex says, and Clark opens the passenger side door when Lex indicates. "Cassius is running some tests. So Mercy is--on edge."

Yes, he imagines so. With the amount of trouble Lex can get into just going to work--assassination attempts, disgruntled ex-employees, superheroes unhappy with his life's calling--Mercy's probably wishing Clark would keep Lex safe in the Penthouse, wrapped up in wool or something. Hiding his grin, Clark gets in, sighing a little as he sinks into the seat. "You know, Clark, I'd happily give you a car--"

Clark gives him a look.

"What?" Turning the ignition, Lex pulls out without such mundane concerns as whether there are any cars or people or, say, pillars behind him, flipping into drive in less than a breath. Clark wonders if closing his eyes would work for the denial thing. "It's a car. An necessary piece of equipment for the average working man in Metropolis."

It's not as if Clark's that attached to the bus, and his car.... "Lex--"

"If you needed a pen, I'd give you one."

"Are you seriously comparing a car to a pen?" Lex might. Sometimes, Clark wonders if Lex inhabits the same plane of reality as he does when it comes to money. Then of course, Clark's aware of what Lex's pens cost, too. "Lex, can we leave that for another day? Like, far in the future?"

Lex gets a grin, not good. "Of course, Clark. I'd hate to make you uncomfortable."

Shaking his head, Clark watches Lex nod to the security guard before pulling out of the garage and into a cold Metropolis evening.

"So where are we going?" Clark asks as Lex adjusts the rearview mirror on the off-chance he might use it.

"It's a surprise," Lex says, giving a perfunctory look at the road around him before upshifting like he's trying to win the Indy 500, Billionaire's edition. It makes Clark wonder if Hope's actually in observation for heart problems. Being Lex's watchdog can't be at all easy. "Don't look like that."

"I'm trying not to look at your driving," Clark answers carefully, breathing out when they make a corner. "I can't believe you drive this way downtown."

"It takes practice," Lex says, like he's talking about a kind of esoteric skill, such as knitting or something. "Really, Clark, you need to relax. You're too young to be this tense."

"What with the worrying for my life? You're never too young for that." They're leaving the bright side of the city, and Clark watches the streets change. The other side of Metropolis, where Superman spent considerable time. "Are we--Lex, what on earth is over here, besides your less friendly associates?"

"They're not associates, they're--paid help." Lex flashes another grin, but his hands are tightening on the steering wheel. "Believe it or not, I do like to get away from the public eye once in awhile." With that, he executes what has to be an illegal maneuver, sliding inside a parking garage that Clark hadn't even seen was there. Clark gets a glimpse of security waving them past, but his life flashing rapidly before his eyes.

"So where are we going?"

"This little place I found while I was attending MetU," Lex answers, pulling into two parking spaces with a flip of the steering wheel. Clark shuts his eyes briefly when the wall comes at them, but the car comes to a picture-perfect stop. "You'll like it."

"Huh." Clark gets out, glancing around the parking garage. "You own it, don't you?"

"The more appropriate question might be, is there anything I don't own?" With a grin, Lex hits the alarm, tucking his keys into his pocket. Reaching for Clark's hand, he pulls him along behind him at Lex's usual brisk pace. "I used to spend a lot of time in this part of town when I was a kid."

"You don't say," Clark murmurs, irrationally pleased at Lex's touch, the easy, natural way the gloved fingers fit between his. It's the stupidest thing, that it turns him on when Lex just holds his hand or touches him--the little, casual things that really don't mean anything except they mean everything.

"You know, you take my reputation far too seriously," Lex answers with a low laugh, and their shoulders brush as Clark picks up his pace.

"I was actually thinking of your juvenile record," Clark answers, catching the quick glance Lex gives him. "I won't even ask."

"I fell into the wrong crowd."

"You led them, Lex. Please."

They come out into the brisk, chilly wind of the night, and Clark glances around briefly. It's a new thing, to wonder about the people around in more than a 'are they in trouble' capacity. Mercy's trailing them, though he can't see her, and that's uncomfortably comforting.

He's still human male normal, even if he isn't superpowered anymore.

Shaking his head, he lets Lex lead them around the corner, glancing at the sign above a small, hole in the wall place that the CEO of LexCorp could not possibly ever have entered.

"You're kidding."

Lex snickers. "Don't judge by appearances, Clark. Really, you should know better."

Well, yeah. But. The rundown buildings on either side--and Clark would swear that one has a 'condemned' sign on the front--don't exactly inspire confidence. Nor does the door Lex pushes through, into a room that's dark even by a Metropolitan night standards. The smell of smoke wafts over them--obviously a place that doesn't pay attention to city ordinances regarding no smoking in restaurants--and it takes several seconds for Clark's eyes to adjust.

Lex leads him to a booth in the back--soft, dark vinyl, years of wear, but as comfortable as Lex's bed, and Clark sits down, running curious fingers over the surface of the table. Very clean. So far so good.

"Tell me why we're here?"

Lex smiles at him, peeling off one glove to reach across the table to catch his hand. "Because you wouldn't have believed me if I told you this is my favorite restaurant."

Huh. A waitress interrupts, and Clark automatically starts to pull away, but the slim fingers hold on, and Lex takes both menus with a charming smile, asking for water. The woman obviously knows him--a quick half-smile, tilted head, and short, approving glance at Clark before disappearing, a blur of soft green blouse and jeans. Very informal. The silverware is wrapped in napkins on the table already. Butter in tiny plastic convenience containers.

So very not Lex Luthor that Clark only gives Lex a look when he takes the one page menu.

"Okay, you're waiting for me to ask. Why?"

Lex studies the menu briefly, but it's pretty obvious he already knows what he wants.

"Well, for one? I actually do like to eat once in awhile outside my home without photographers snapping pictures." Lex runs his still gloved finger down the menu again, then nods, almost to himself. "Two, I'd like you to myself for awhile."

"You have me to yourself at the penthouse. Or my apartment. Or--"

Lex makes a sound that borders suspiciously on a snort. "I'm never going to try and be romantic again."

Clark laughs and catches at the fingers that try to pull away. "I'm sorry. It's just--different."

"I told you, Clark. You don't know everything." Grinning, Lex pulls off his other glove with his teeth, slow and easy. Clark feels the shiver run down his back just watching, and Lex lets the glove fall from his mouth and into his lap like it's the most normal thing ever.

"You're so sexy," Clark hears himself say, and Lex gives him a slow, sleepy smile that reaches into his eyes. Clark takes a deep breath, forcing himself to stare at the table, but that does nothing about the way his pants tighten and God, he wants to be at the penthouse right now.

"You know, Clark--"

"Here you go." Two glasses of water drop on the table between then, and Clark shakily reaches for one. Taking a drink, he looks over the rim at Lex, who's pretending he has no idea why Clark needs something iced right now, stroking his glass with a thoughtful look. "What can I get you?"

He's--got to go to the bathroom.

"I'll--be right back," Clark says, putting down the glass.

"Do you know what you want to eat?" Lex asks, like he has no idea what on earth could make Clark feel so hunted.

"Order me something." Cold water. Reminding himself he doesn't have superspeed, so can't rush them back to the penthouse and get Lex on his back right now. This is supposed to be a date. There's food to eat. A nice, quiet restaurant, just the two of them. Stepping around the woman, who smiles as if she knows what's going on--does it show on his face?--Clark glances around casually.

"To the left," the woman says, then turns back to Lex. He's not flushing. He's--going to the bathroom. Like any other normal person who's being teased by Lex Luthor at dinner.

It's a short walk--door just behind some huge, glass-covered movie poster from the fifties with Marilyn Monroe on the front--and down the short hall, men on the left. No one's in here, but it's dark even with the lights on. Comforting in some way.

Turning on the water, Clark splashes a little on his face, then dries his hands, adjusting himself in the pants.

Looking in the mirror, Clark studies his reflection for the first time since he changed. The same face stares back that's been looking at him since around fifteen--different hair, longer, but the green eyes don't scare him anymore, and he remembers how good it felt, how right, to wake up with Lex.

No matter what's happening or will happen in the Arctic, they can get through this. Grinning a little, Clark imagines what Lex will do when Clark still digs in his heels about moving. The penthouse--isn't right, not for them to live together. They could get something else. Something they pick out together. Something--

Clark hears himself laugh. He's really thinking of permanence now. Lois had been right. He can handle Lex, he can handle work, he can do anything, and he can do it all as Clark Kent.

The bathroom door opens, and Clark watches Lex looking at him from the doorway. Lex lets the door close behind him without a word, then reaches down, casually turning the lock.

Turning around and leaning against the sink, Clark grins, crossing his arms over his chest.

"What if someone needs to use the bathroom?"

"There's a perfectly acceptable bathroom across the hall. I ordered you a cheeseburger." Lex comes close enough to touch, but his hands are in his pockets, head cocked. "Are you feeling okay?"

"Yeah." Really great. Reaching out, Clark catches Lex's belt, pulling him between his knees. "Just thinking."

"Thinking?" Lex's head tilts back, giving Clark a little grin that reaches into his eyes. "About what?"

"Nothing." They can get something closer to the Planet, so Clark can walk to work in the mornings. "Maybe you."

"Maybe?" Lex takes the final step, bringing them together, and Clark can feel him hard against his hip, making him catch his breath. Warm breath against his jaw, and it makes him shiver again, just the feel of Lex breathing on him. "Let's fix that."

Teeth graze his jaw, warm lips like an afterthought that skim his skin, before sliding down his throat, resting on the side of his neck before Lex lets his teeth touch Clark's skin. Just a second of dizzying anticipation, then the pressure, slow and careful, bright pain creeping up through every nerve, and Clark bucks against Lex, a hard thigh sliding between his.

"Lex." His voice is shaking. "I--I'm way too old for a hickey." And that is going to show. Unless he wears turtlenecks for the next week. But he can't even begin to want to pull away, leaning in, one hand finding its way up to the back of Lex's neck as a warm tongue eases over Clark's skin.

"Let me fuck you." It's murmured into his ear, followed by Lex's tongue in a slow sweep. "I want you."

"God." He's not even sure he can think after that. Not when Lex insinuates a hand between them, cupping his cock through his pants, other hand tangling in his hair and pulling him down for a hard kiss. His mouth feels raw, lips bruised, and Lex seems to want to consume him completely, turning on every nerve until Clark's bucking into his hand and shaking with the need to just--

"Please, Clark." Whispered against his lips, and the hand closes tight over his cock. "Do this for me."

No way to get control of his voice back now--Clark nods, and Lex hand closes around his throat, kissing him hard, once, before stepping back.

"Turn around."

It's--not easy to remember how to balance, but Clark turns, bracing both hands on the cool porcelain of the sink, shutting his eyes at the touch of Lex's hands on his waist. Unfastening his pants, letting them fall, then kicking his feet apart, making him gasp. An open mouth kiss to the back of his neck as the hard hand slips into his boxers, stroking his cock briefly before pulling away, and Clark moans, bucking futilely at the withdrawal. "Shh. I'll make this good, Clark."

Boxers next, and Clark finds himself staring into the mirror, trying to blink focus back. He can just see Lex behind him--oh God, feel Lex behind him, and of course Lex carries lube everywhere, if he didn't actually plan this, which Clark's beginning to wonder. Slick fingers push inside, hard and fast, and Clark tenses shuddering at the start of heat in his cock, pushing back against them. "Good, Clark." Lex's voice is thick, almost heavy, slicking him like the fingers inside him. "That's it. Open up for me"

"Fuck." He looks drugged--swollen mouth, wrecked collar, the dark red glare of Lex's teethmarks in his throat. Another finger pushes inside, and Clark shudders, making a sound that he's never heard before. "Now. God, Lex, now. Please--"

"Shh." Another kiss, pressed between his shoulder blades, then the fingers pull away and Clark almost groans. "Just--wait a second." The rustle of foil--right, condom. Easier clean-up. Then Lex steps closer and Clark feels Lex's hands on his ass, the brief brush of his cock, almost a tease, and Clark tries to push back against it. "That's--hold still. Don't want to hurt you--"

"Won't." He's panting, and God, even he thinks he looks sexy, the mirror reflecting open mouth and ruffled hair and Clark begging. "Won't, just--just please--"

Lex grabs his hips, and suddenly--

"Oh God--" Cut off with the hand over his mouth, and maybe he started screaming, but he's not sure. God, yes, it hurts, and God, it's good, and he wants it again and again, the slow burn of Lex's cock opening him wide, Lex whispering to him in that low, jagged voice that sounds like sex feels. Like nothing else, ever, and Clark sucks on the fingers that slide over his tongue, moaning around them as Lex pulls back, then thrusts again, seating himself so deeply that Clark wonders if he'll feel this in his throat.

"I love seeing you like this," Lex whispers, hand skimming up his hips, pulling his shirt up, careless of wrinkles. "I love to watch you when I fuck you. When you fuck me." Mouth on his back, tongue licking his spine with another thrust, and Clark swallows a moan, pushing his cock into the sink to get some relief. Every stroke makes him shudder, twisting, trying to get more, wanting Lex to go faster and never stop. His hands are locked on the sink, holding himself steady, bucking against Lex.

"Harder." He chokes out the word around Lex's fingers, almost going to his elbows at the shock of the next thrust. Lex removes his hand, making Clark moan again, and the slick fingers trail over his shirt, down the revealed expanse of his stomach, closing on his cock. "Oh God--"

"Never want to stop." A sharp bite to his back, and then Lex is--is fucking him, no time for words or thought or anything but feeling everything, taking it with rocks of his hips and breathless sounds like he's dying and it's never, never been this good.

He comes with a shock--voice caught helplessly in his throat, back arched, Lex's cock buried inside him, his cock in Lex's hand. Vision black, no sound, nothing but standing here, taking this, feeling it all, almost falling but for Lex's arm around his waist, pressing him to the sink, almost bent over it.

"God, Clark." Reverent, like he's praying, and Clark's still shuddering when Lex just stops, hands clenching on his flesh hard enough to bruise, and Clark forces his eyes open to watch, see his face, wide blue eyes and bitten lip. Incredible, forcing an aftershock through him as Lex rests against his back, soft and pliable, hands loosing to pet gently.

Long, long seconds before Lex pulls away, and Clark hates it, hates losing the feel of Lex's cock, the warmth of him against his back, and Lex turns him around, leaning him on the sink and stepping between his legs, face pressed into his throat. Warm and shivering and all his--Clark wraps shaky arms around him and breathes in the smell of them both.

No one who sees them *isn't* going to know what they just did.

Lex's fingers are in his hair again, and then that hot mouth brushes his lips before pulling back. Clark grins, wondering if he looks like an idiot, before opening his eyes to see Lex watching him with a little smile and something lighting the blue like fire.

"You're beautiful," he murmurs, then draws back, the smile widening, becoming a smirk that makes Clark grin back. "Ready to eat now?"

Clark looks down at stained pants and rumpled shirt and starts to laugh.


Clark groans into the pillow at the brush of Lex's fingers against his cheek.

"God." There's a peculiar twisting in his stomach, and something uncomfortable pounds behind his eyes. It reminds him vaguely of a hangover, but not nearly this--concentrated. "I feel like shit."

"You don't look it." The softly amused voice flows over him like water, and Clark tries to open his eyes. A bare crack convinces him not to move. "What's wrong?"

"Dunno." The cool fingers threading through his hair are soothing, and Clark tries to roll on his back, get closer. The effort leaves him gasping, every limb as heavy as lead. "Jesus. What--"

"Shh. Let me get you some water. You're burning up."

Clark listens to the nearly-silent pad of Lex's feet away from him, then the bathroom door open. God, his stomach hurts. Almost like that first night after changing, but totally different. A cramp shocks him, twisting up his abdomen to lodge in his ribs, and Clark chokes on a groan.

Not enough that he's sore from sex--a lot of sex--and has work today, he's got to be sick, too. No way Perry's going to accept this. How the hell is he going to explain? He's been taking a lot of days off work.

He's so lost in cataloguing his body--headache, check, stomach hurts, check, wish for death, oh hell yes check--that he doesn't hear Lex come back until he sits on the bed beside him, gently levering him up with one strong arm behind his back. Opening his eyes, he gets a glimpse of a glass of water coming at him and takes a drink, but Lex withdraws it far too fast.

"Only make it worse," Lex murmurs, which makes no sense. "No reason to make this more painful than it already is." Taking the glass away in an act of utter unfairness, Lex lowers him slowly back down, adjusting the pillows behind him.

"Tell me I don't have like, the flu or something," Clark murmurs into the pillow, shutting his eyes tight against the light. "Can you close the curtain? I can't believe this--"

"Shh. Just a second." Lex moves again, just when Clark is contemplating throwing himself across Lex's lap and being petted for a few hours. Days. Something. Thoughts keep disconnecting and is this being lightheaded?

He hears himself giggle and the sheets seem to withdraw from his fingers when he reach for them. Oh fuck. This is completely and totally unfair.

When he gets his eyes open again, it feels like time's stretching like taffy. Someone's behind him, warm arms circling his body. God, it's hot. He can feel sweat breaking out all over.

"Lex?"

"We put you to sleep for a little while. Cassius says you'll be fine." The words are whispered in his ear, but echo in his head loud. It's like those first days of discovering superhearing all over again.

"You called Cassius?"

"I wanted to be sure you'd be okay." The arms around him tighten, brush of lips to the back of his neck. "I'm sorry, Clark. I really didn't think it would be this bad."

This bad-- "Lex? Did--" He's been avoiding Cassius. Was there something wrong with his tests after all? It's a struggle to turn over--like the entire fucking planet is weighing him down now, and his body doesn't want to respond right. "Lex." His arms keep trying to hit the wrong thing, but somehow, he reaches, hitting Lex's shoulder. "Sorry. Sorry--"

"It's okay." His hand is captured, and Lex brushes a kiss across the knuckles. "It'll be okay, I promise, Clark."

"What did Cassius say?" It's an effort to get out the words, forced between lips that feel weighed down and thick. Even his tongue has this thick-furry thing going on. Some parts of humanity seriously suck.

"Food poisoning won't kill you. It's light enough. A few days in bed--though he says you'll wish you were dead." Lex's voice sounds--very weird. Very, very weird, and Clark manages to curve his fingers. Lex feels too cool, like something not quite alive, carved out of marble.

"Food poisoning?" That's what they get for going to some weird restaurant in the worst part of Metropolis. Food poisoning, great. Just what he needed to complete his understanding of the human condition. "I don't believe this."

Lex chuckles, making Clark wince. "Sorry, Clark. Sensitivity to sound is normal. How's your stomach?"

"Terrible." The cramps are lighter, not hideously painful, just constant. Like all his insides are shifting around and trying to find a better place to congregate. "Cassius--this isn't--"

"No, love." Lex is stroking the hand pressed to his face. "Nothing like that. Baseline human, no problems. I couldn't figure out why he wanted to talk to you so much, really. But we had a little talk this morning. It's good to know you're still such a procrastinator."

Clark struggles to put that sentence together, but the words don't make any sense.

"Lex--"

"You'll be fine, three days, tops. Probably less."

"Perry--"

"Doris called in and told your boss how sick you were. Cassius, trust me, will happily send a note to Perry if he needs proof. Anything you want." Clark can hear the smile in Lex's voice. "If you still want to work there, that is."

"Work there?" It's his job. Oh God, is Lex going to try and make him change to a LexCorp job? Clark almost sighs. He almost says something, but it just seems pointless right now. With a little groan, Clark shifts closer, and Lex lets him basically cuddle up like a five year old kid with a cold. Stroking his hair, murmuring comfortingly.

"...you don't have to worry, Clark, about any investigations either. Believe it or not, Lionel was kind enough to leave all records about your adoption and I cleaned it up. And there's no one to contest the will, I made sure of that. I don't have any relatives to worry you. Lydia won't try anything--she and Hope had a very nice discussion."

What?

"Lex--"

"Shh. You need your rest. I--thought I had more time. I should have started sooner, but I didn't think that you'd--" Lex suddenly sits up, depriving him of comforting cool skin and presence, and that's completely unfair as far as Clark's concerned.

"Lex, come back."

"I'm getting you some more water." There's shifting, and Clark's stomach rolls, lights flashing behind his eyes briefly. He's never eating again.

Lex helps him sit up, holding the glass to his mouth, and Clark drinks greedily, cushioned against Lex's body. The glass is pulled away, and Clark makes a sound. "Not too much. Cassius knows exactly how much to give you, and it'll make it easier. Just do what he says. You can trust him for this. He knows he really can't afford to fail."

Lex, talking in weird, half-understood sentences, and it's like being in Smallville again except now, Clark's old enough to want to understand. Breathing out, he turns enough to look at Lex--even in the dark, Clark can make out the lines of his face, the straight line of his mouth.

"Lex--" What time is it? He's dizzy again--lightheaded, like floating, but--it seems wrong. Something--that escapes his thoughts like a bird. "Lex, I feel weird--"

"Shh. I'm here." He's pulled close again, and he can't help reaching, even if his body doesn't want to work right, cheek pressed to crisp linen and Lex is stroking his hair, soft and gentle. "Just let it go."

Lex. Lex is--he wants to struggle, because something's just wrong and he knows it, feels it, even if he can't figure out it. Fuck food poisoning and the human condition, he'd take his superpowers for the next hour if he could get out a word straight and put together what Lex has been saying. This is ridiculous.

He's drifting again--no matter how hard he tries, he can't hold on, and Lex is getting very far away....

"...Lex, that's all I meant to do."

"You're lying through your teeth."

Lex--isn't in bed with him. Which, why would he be? Cuddling your sick lover can't really be that much fun. Clark groans into the sheets, unhappily aware of the pounding in his head and the fact that Lex was right, even the sound of his fingers scratching at the sheets sound indecently loud, like a steamroller is going right by his head. Forcing himself still, Clark tries to put the words together.

"Don't fucking start. We've known each other too long for you to play at being Lionel Luthor. This is your way to deal with the situation?"

"If you didn't notice--which since you spend all of your free time in your little office, wouldn't be a surprise--things got a little complex." The voices are thready. Definitely not in this room. Clark levers open his eyes--still dark. The sheets have been changed, and he really doesn't want to know why. "I don't have much time left. I'd like to spend it in a little peace, thank you."

"Yes, you and your great plan. This wasn't in it."

"I was supposed to expect this?" That's Lex, sounding--distinctly unhappy about something. "I didn't see you protesting too fucking hard--"

"I thought it might change your mind." That's Cassius. Clark licks dry lips and carefully rolls until he's on his other side, facing the shadowy outline of the half-open door. Faint light splashes the floor in an angled rectangle, flickering a little from the movement in that room. Lex, who can't keep still, pacing out his anger. It almost makes Clark smile. So Lex.

"You've lost your mind."

"There's still time to call in the Justice League."

Clark almost sits straight up, but nothing in his body agrees--even the hint of movement sends his stomach turning over, and the bitter-sweet thread of nausea on the back of his tongue holds all his attention. Will not throw up. Especially in a bed. Especially in this bed. Just gross. Oh damn.

Sucking in a painfully dry breath, Clark concentrates on his stomach, refusing to think of anything else. It's a long, painful battle, but he can do this, he can damn well not throw up, and while he's at it, he can figure out what the fuck is going on.

"...hell may freeze over first. They wouldn't survive any better. Or didn't you read the communications?"

"They're lying, Lex. They can't know everything."

"I'm not risking it." There's a hard sound, like something falling. "We agreed on this a long time ago, Benny. We both know why."

"Right. I agreed then because you were right. We didn't know. Now we do. And they--"

Who the fuck--

"Benny, shut up. This isn't open for discussion."

"I want to know when the fuck you became suicidal."

The silence stretches, and Clark's feet find the cool rug on the floor. Score one for utter desperation. He's shaking and his body aches, but somehow, balance is achieved and he honestly has no idea how he manages it. Grabbing for the nightstand, Clark looks at the half-empty glass of water. God, that would be good. Licking dry lips, Clark reaches for it, but his hands are shaking. No way he'll get that to his mouth without serious leakage. Or losing his balance and he grabs with both hands again, feeling himself begin to shake.

He missed part of the conversation. "...maybe I just don't want to have to explain why I let you go."

Cassius voice is very low, almost inaudible. Gritting his teeth, Clark marks the distance between the nightstand and the door. He's not going to crawl. At least, he's really going to try not to.

"Clark will understand. And Mercy and Hope have their orders."

"Do they include not hunting me down to kill me and everyone else involved? Jesus, Lex--"

"You're making excuses now." Lex, short and sharp. "I took care of everything."

"Except yourself."

Lex's low laugh is plenty incentive. Straightening, Clark puts a foot ahead, breathing out at the sharp cramp of pain. Lex--something is wrong.

"Benny." And even more bizarrely, Lex sounds--comforting. "If all else fails, I've arranged to have Mercy and Hope taken care of until Clark is well enough to talk with them. And they do understand orders."

"Yes, that's why they're in matching beds in my lab." The sharp sound of Cassius voice gives Clark another push--three steps. The rugs make it easier. He wouldn't be able to do this on Lex's too-smooth, hardwood floors. He'd be sliding around like an oiled seal.

Clark hears himself giggling. Oh man, he's going insane. It almost takes his balance, but really, oiled seal--he'll have to tell Lois about that.

She'll--she'll--

Tell him, get a move on, Kent. It's weird how her voice is always so loud in his head. Like even when she isn't here, she is.

It's almost--not quite, but almost--a surprise when he realizes he's standing at the doorway. The light's low, but still blinding, and Clark blinks through adjustment and the shot of pain in his head, echoing at the base of his skull. Almost enough to make him forget what he's doing, sit down, and just moan for awhile.

That would be nice.

"...is he?"

"Symptoms are progressing correctly." That's Lex, and that sound is liquor being poured. Lex's tolerance is so high that Clark sometimes wonders if Lex is aware of how much he drinks. "I'd like you to keep him asleep as much as possible. The mix--"

"Yeah." Cassius voice is very low. "You know, he's not going to understand."

"Of everyone, you and he may be the only people that ever do. Have a drink."

Pushing a hand into the doorway, Clark debates walking out--okay, stumbling drunkenly out--and asking. Just--asking.

Asking what is the problem.

"How much longer?"

"The pilot called in a half-hour ago." Lex's voice is strangely even. Clark's nerves, already fried, don't like that, sending out warning messages everywhere. Something--something he's not getting. "Just another couple of hours. Rhinestadt says they'll enter the atmosphere by midnight, and they've specified I'm to be there when they do or all deals are off."

Cassius makes a low, uncomfortable sound. "Lex, we can still call in the Justice League--"

"If I fail, they'll be needed here." Lex's voice is quiet. "But we both know that I won't fail."

Silence. Gripping the doorway, Clark watches Lex walk into view, brandy glass in hand, but he's not drinking. Just behind him, Cassius, rumpled and looking exhausted, is standing by the fireplace, eyes turned down to fix on the flames like there's some mystery there that has to be solved.

If they see him, he'll be put back to bed. And Lex will--will do something. Keep him asleep? Clark half turns, pushing back from the doorway, suddenly aware of the fact he can't make any noise. His eyes fall in the glass of water and Clark runs his tongue over his teeth, wondering if he can taste something else, maybe something not-water.

There's a phone on the nightstand, but they'll hear him. His cellphone--with his jacket, and he--he came in last night. Doris was in bed, he came in here, and Lex--Lex might not have thought to remove his cellphone yet.

Closet.

It's an eternal slow walk to the closet--every time his feet touch the floor, he wonders if they can hear him, and he has to--has to get his phone. Call someone. Lois. Wherever she is, and Lex has had time, and speaking of time, what time is it? Midnight. Lex needs to be there at midnight, wherever 'there' is, and Clark's sick and can't fucking think.

Get it together, Kent, says the Lois in his head. Thank you, Lois. So much fucking help there.

Thirty steps to the closet. Small steps, because his balance is shot and there's nothing to grab onto. He can't afford to fall, make a noise. His coat--Lex hung it up in the closet, commenting on how it needed a professional dry cleaner. Recommended--and this is the shit his brain is feeding him.

The closet door is open still, light off. He can't turn it on, has to do this by memory. Okay. Right near the door. That's where he pushed Lex, and Lex had been laughing at him, telling him to take it slow, maybe because Lex already knew something was wrong, that Clark was getting sick, and that little bathroom break at the restaurant? Totally planned.

Like Hope suddenly getting sick, and now Mercy's at Cassius lab, and that leaves just Clark. Food poisoning his alien-human ass.

Wow, he really needs to--stop. Don't think. Get to the phone before Lex gets back in here and all bets are off.

By the door. Holding on to the doorframe, Clark breathes out. It hadn't been too far. Phone. Lois--Lex might have done something, but Lex can't control everything, though he really, really tries.

The smooth leather is to the right, and Clark knows his legs will give out any second now. He can ignore the cramping in his stomach, his head pounding, and how fucking thirsty he is, but he can't really get beyond the fact his legs aren't doing this anymore. And if he falls, there's no way in hell he'll be able to reach.

Bracing himself against the wall just inside the closet, Clark pulls the door as closed as he can, then lunges.

Lex has--a lot of uncomfortable shoes. Gasping, Clark wonders if they just heard the equivalent of forty something pairs of shoes being landed on by two hundred plus of alien, then gives up. His coat's in his hand.

Eyes closed, he fumbles for the phone. Lois is speed dial one.

He lets himself stretch out on the carpet, muttering prayers under his breath. Please, answer. He can't think of anyone else to call. Anyone who would know anything, or listen, or hell, do anything--

On the fifth ring, it clicks, and Clark just knows it's voicemail.

"Smallville?"

Oh thank you God.

"Lois." Even to himself, his voice sounds terrible. Barely a thread of air, but this phone is good.

"Clark." Instantly, her voice lowers. "Clark, I've been trying to reach you--"

"No time." Shuddering, Clark closes his eyes and takes a long breath. "Lois, where are you?"

"Waiting for a fucking flight. Perry didn't get the story--computer system crashed and the techs aren't having any luck getting it back up. Fucking morons." Oh damn. Good to go, Lex. "I'm bringing it in personally. Perry said it'll make tonight's--"

"Shut up." She'll understand the rudeness later. "Lois, something's wrong."

"Oh yeah." She sounds so gleeful he wonders if she's been doing little tap dances. "That meteor shower's coming down tonight."

Oh fuck. Clark closes his eyes.

"Don't tell me. Midnight. Don't answer. Lois, Lex is doing something. I--I need you here. I need you now."

"Clark." Her voice drops. "What's going on?"

"Don't know. Contact--Jesus. Call--call Br--" Secret identities much? Fuck it. "Call Bruce. Wayne. Tell him---tell him to get here now. What time is it?"

Lois, luckily, isn't asking him questions. "It's nearly five, eastern standard. I'll be in Metropolis by seven your time, if this stupid plane doesn't--"

Right. Want to guess about why the plane might take too long? "Get another. Any one. Next one out of there. You--Lois, Lex is doing something. I don't--I can't figure out what--"

"Are you okay?" There's something in her voice that he's never heard before.

"No. No. I'm--at the penthouse. Call Bruce, get a flight, get here now. And do it--do it--" Fuck. Lex could come in any minute. "Listen, whatever's coming down tonight, I don't think it's just a meteor shower." In fact, Clark's starting to think the entire meteor shower thing isn't what should be scaring him at all. "Lex said something about a deal. He--Lois, he did something to Mercy and Hope and me. Tell me that this--that this--" Fuck, he can't concentrate. "I can't--I can't get it. He did something to me. And to them. He--Lois, whatever the fuck he's doing, I don't think he's planning on coming back."

"Jesus Christ." Lois breathes it like a prayer. "Oh God, Clark." And she's clicking, because Lois sees connections that he can't. "Clark--"

"I have to go. He's--talking to Cassius--"

"Cassius is there?" Sharp.

"Yeah." The floor's really comfortable. Is there a reason he can't stay right here? "He--Lois--"

"Okay. Get off the phone now. I'll be there if I have to fucking learn to fly myself." She clicks off--smart woman. He wonders if she'll knock out a pilot and just take a plane out herself if they don't move fast enough for her. Clark lets the phone fall, barely managing to click it off.

He--there's no way in hell he's moving again. And this looks--and Lex can't know. Can't--

Clark maneuvers the phone back to his coat and pushes it back, stomach heaving. Okay. He's nauseated, he's sick, he's out of it, and--

Oh, Lex may forgive him just about anything, but Clark's not sure that even love will be enough to forgive what Clark's about to do to his shoes.

It almost makes him grin when he gets his hands and knees under him.


"Sorry," he whispers when Lex tucks him back into bed. "I was--I thought I was in the bathroom." He sounds so pathetic. Honest to God sick and sad and not at all suspicious.

Lex smoothes the covers over his chest, a hand resting on his forehead, checking his temperature. Clark tries to erase the image of Lex's face when he saw his shoes from the front of his mind. It's not helping the pathetic looks at all.

"It's okay, Clark." Lex actually sounds sincere, and if that isn't a warning signal, Clark doesn't know what is. Those are Lex's shoes. "They're just shoes. Take a deep breath. Do you want some more to drink?" Lex reaches for the glass.

"No." Oh God, does he. So badly his mouth aches. But that glass--that's not just water, Clark would bet anything. "Just--I'm being such a baby. Can you--just stay here?" He forces in a whine, watching from behind half-closed eyes as Lex hesitates. "Just until I fall asleep? I've--except for when I changed, I've never been sick before."

"You seem better." There's a thread of something uncomfortably close to suspicion in his voice. Lex was born suspicious, though, so Clark thinks it's mostly reflex.

"If this is better--" Clark lets his voice trail off, not bothering to hide the wince at the next cramp in his stomach. If he acts more out of it, Lex might tell him things. But he's not that great an actor.

"I can stay for a little while." Lex shifts Clark over, and Clark burrows close the second Lex is near. Breathing him in--light cigar smoke, brandy, whatever his laundry does to his shirts that make them smell like summer. Nuzzling in, Clark just lets himself feel Lex.

Heart a little too fast, breath in his hair, and so--Clark shuts his eyes, and it's not his imagination, Lex is almost clinging to him, hands hard on his back. Whatever's going on, he can find a way to make Lex stop doing it. If he knew what and how, that is.

Cassius said suicidal. Lex, going to the Arctic--Clark tries to calculate, taking into account that Lex has no issues with breaking the sound barrier if he thinks it's necessary-he'll have to leave soon. And do something. Bruce can get up there, assuming Lex hasn't done something like sabotage the entire Justice League, but what the hell will Bruce be dealing with?

Lex said a deal.

Maybe the water makes him sleepy and sick or something, because he can think again, at least a little. Put the pieces together, Kent. You were here, Lois wasn't, but Clark would bet anything Lois knows. He'd heard it in her voice, that way she just suddenly figures out things. God, he should have asked.

"Lex, is something wrong?" He doesn't have to fake the quiver in his voice. Lex said something about his will. Lydia. It refuses to completely settle, and his head's pounding, every thought's an effort. He needs--God, does he need Lois right now.

"Everything's fine." Slow stroking of his hair, and Clark breathes him in. A tang of sweat. Lex. And the heart beneath his ear stutters. "I--have to leave for a few hours."

"Why?" He's starting to sound like a ten year old girl. Is that suspicious? "Tell your associates to fuck off."

"I didn't think of that." Lex sounds--amused. "Somehow, in this case, I don't think it'll work. After I'm done, I'll be back, Clark. Hopefully by then, you'll feel better."

"I'm never eating at that place again, Lex." Be back. Lex is lying. Lex doesn't think he's coming back.

Lex laughs softly, and Clark shivers at the brush of lips against his head. "I don't blame you. I won't be long. Cassius is staying here to make sure you're okay. Just do what he says and you'll be fine, I promise." It's almost painful to feel Lex shift up, but Clark doesn't have the energy to hold on. Fuck. Fuck. "Drink this and get some rest."

Ah yes, the drugged water. The better to keep your lover unaware while you wander off to do whatever the hell it is you're planning. Clark takes a drink, holding it in his mouth, slumping as Lex lets him back down, turning away. Okay, if Lex sees this--

But he has white pillowcases, and Clark turns over onto his side, spitting the water out, and yes, there's that medicinal edge. Shifting his head on top of the wet spot, he lets his eyes fall closed, hating that he can't see Lex, has to just lay here while Lex sits beside him, and he can feel the sharp gaze, studying him like he never expects to see him again.

Or Clark could be projecting.

"I love you." A brush of a hand across his hair, and the bed shifts. And for a second, Clark thinks he'll say something. I know what you're doing, even though he doesn't. Don't go. Tell me. Let me help. And maybe, you fucking controlling bastard, you poisoned me? But this is Lex, and Clark bites down into his lip as he listens to Lex walk away. Every step hurts, feels like it's echoing, which would be logical, since his head's still pounding and he has to--has to think. There are a thousand questions and only Cassius to answer them, and Clark has no idea how he's going to get answers.

When the door closes, Clark rolls off the pillow, staring up at the ceiling, trying to breathe. Cramps can fuck themselves, and so can the headache. Somewhere out of this room, Lex is going to the Arctic and it wasn't a meteor shower after all. At least, that's not the thing that's been consuming Lex for two years.

God, he needs Lois, aspirin, and just for the next six hours, his super-self back in action. Something, because this should be obvious, he knows it, but every time he settles, everything flakes again. Rolling on his side, Clark draws up his knees, breathing out slowly.

-"*Your origins always interested me, Clark. So don't be surprised when on the same basic trajectory, I noticed that something was coming at us.*"--

"Right," Clark whispers, then bites his tongue. Well, fuck it. Maybe Cassius will think he talks in his sleep. Saying it seems to help. "Right on the same trajectory, so Kryptonite. Or--"

Kryptonians. The other great export of the exploding planet, just as dangerous, slightly more sentient, and Lex Luthor has lost his mind.

"Fuck." He has to get up. Has to--find his pants. Right. He'll crawl north and terrify whoever the hell it is with his remarkable ability at aimed projectile vomiting. Those shoes had been scared to death of him. "This can't be happening."

"Well, it is." The voice from the door snaps Clark's head around, and Cassius blue eyes fix on him. Clark thinks about reaching out and dumping the rest of the water, but Cassius probably has more. "I see you're awake. Lex wasn't paying attention."

Well, Clark hadn't been either, and that's going to change. Pushing himself up on his elbows, he ignores the rush of vertigo, the queasy lurch of his stomach. "You let him go."

Something flashes in the blue eyes that makes Clark almost wince, but the image of Lex doing whatever stupid thing he's gotten into his head cancels it out.

"Lex had his mind made up."

"You could have stopped him."

Cassius cocks his head, snorting softly. "You ever do it when you're not Superman?" Crossing the room, Cassius gives the water glass a thoughtful look. "You know, he must have been out of it. He should have noticed if you didn't drink."

"I think he was too busy contemplating whatever martyrdom he's planning," Clark snaps out, regretting it almost immediately by the way Cassius' eyes fix on him. "I've got to stop him."

Cassius gives him a once over that reminds him of the state of his body right now. "Right."

"Call the Justice League in. Give me a phone and I'll do it. Whatever's going on--"

"There isn't time."

"There's hours!" At least, Clark thinks there are. Did he fall asleep again?

"Let me put this another way. If they see more than one human up there--." Cassius trails off meaningfully, sitting down on the edge of the bed like he has no idea what he's doing. "I've thought about this, too, you know. So has he"

"Until two weeks ago, I was Superman," Clark says slowly. "If---if this--who is it? What are they?"

Cassius gives him a sardonic smile. "You haven't figured it out yet?"

Clark had been kind of hoping he was wrong. "Kryptonians."

"Bingo." Leaning back into the post, Cassius' eyes go distant. "Three of them, to be exact. Depressingly well-informed about earth and yellow suns, in case you're curious." Oh fuck. Clark lets his elbows collapse, staring up at the ceiling. "For obvious reasons, Lex wasn't too hot to inform you at first."

Clark's mouth goes dry. Every fight they'd ever had, public and private, flashes through his head. "He thought I'd--help them?"

"I think he thought you'd fight them and die. Three on one aren't good odds."

Yes, that's Lex all right. "He was protecting me." Because taking out Superman was one of Lex's many hobbies, and damned if anyone, especially latecoming alien invaders, was going to take that away from him.

Cassius makes a sound that's very close to a laugh. Clark wonders if Cassius understands. "In his Lex way, yes. There are---were--contingency plans to keep Superman out of this, you understand. The government had its own reasons--wondering if you'd help your kind--but he got what he wanted out of it. Then you neatly removed yourself from the equation altogether. I was hoping--" Cassius stops, and Clark forces himself back on the pillow, propped up just enough to see the man's face and not piss off his stomach any more. Exhaustion and frustration are written into every line, and Clark feels a sudden start of something very, very close to hope.

"Why--" Clark stops, taking a breath. Go about this carefully, categorically. He's a reporter, used to getting and organizing information. "What deal did Lex make?"

"Oh, that." Cassius waves a hand. "The Kryptonians wanted to get rid of the competition, you understand."

"Superman." This is why Clark will never be any good at being a bad guy, even if he wanted to try. He just doesn't think that way. "Okay."

"Right. So Lex promised them Superman, tied up with a bow, in the Fortress. In return, Lex--"

"All the kingdoms of the earth?" Clark wishes he could have seen this conversation happen.

"Just one. The only one Lex wants, really." With another sigh, Cassius closes his eyes. "Like I said, they've been paying attention. Enough to know about the eternal Superman and Lex Luthor struggle, not to mention Lex isn't exactly subtle about his ambitions if you read between the lines." Clark can't help but grin at that. "So. They offered."

"Lex accepted."

"Yes. And you're a smart boy. You figure the rest out."

Clark takes a breath. Miraculously, talking does make things clearer. At least, his headache isn't pushing the thoughts out of alignment when they're already verbalized.

"He's setting them up."

"In the Fortress, yes."

Clark nods slowly, wincing at the ache that jumps at every movement. Don't do that again, Clark, not if you want to get through this. "Why didn't the Fortress figure out what was coming?"

"That you'd have to ask our future Kryptonian overlords," Cassius answers dryly.

"And did they mention how they survived the explosion?" The Fortress had been pretty clear on the entire death of his entire species thing.

Cassius smiles, eyes still closed. "Did the Fortress ever mention to you that Kryptonians didn't always keep their most dangerous criminals on the planet?"

No, that sounds like disturbingly practical information that the Fortress had forgotten to bring up during all those history chats.

"Though I suppose it really couldn't anticipate them finding a ship and getting around to following you."

Clark takes a long breath, regretting it instantly with the sudden cramping in his stomach, sending a flare of pure pain up into his chest. Oh fuck. He has to--God, stay with this. Figure it out. Work out something. Lex has had two years and he's got hours. Maybe less.

"What's Lex planning?"

Cassius' smile widens. "It's really simple, actually. Get them into the Fortress and blow it."

Clark frowns. "That won't kill them. I've survived volcanic activity, and Lex knows--" just about as much as Clark does about his weaknesses. "He--what? Weaken them with Kryptonite? That will kill them outright."

"It's never been proven that it will kill you," Cassius says calmly, and Clark shivers. Close enough. "Weaken you, yes. Make you very ill, yes. Close to comatose, yes. But kill? We don't know. And Lex isn't testing the theory. Not when this is our only shot."

Yeah, three. That's--that's a lot, and Clark until this moment hadn't really appreciated the reality of that. Three of him. Three of him, without the morals, the Kents, a Lex, or a conscience.

Clark takes a more careful breath. "Why does he think he's going to die? If that's it--"

"He's staying inside until the Fortress goes. Like I said, Lex isn't taking any chances. He's going to be in there and watch them until the thing explodes. He wants to be absolutely sure they don't escape."

"He thinks he can stop them if they try to run." Right. That makes perfect sense. God. Clark shuts his eyes, waiting for the start of dizziness to pass. "Because obviously, it's too fucking easy just to walk out and blow it from a distance. This needs that personal, controlling touch."

It's so Lex.

"The Kryptonite would disable them. He doesn't need--" Clark lets out a breath, slow and easy. "Cassius. Does he want to die?"

There's a second where Cassius doesn't answer, and Clark is flashing on every conversation, remembering Lex's voice only--God, a day ago? Blank and dreamy and low and--wistful.

"No. I think--" Cassius pauses. "I think he doesn't trust anything or anyone as much as he trusts himself. Not the Justice League, not the government, not you, not even me. Believe it or not, Clark, he hasn't been that forthcoming on what exactly he has in mind to anyone. I've been with him since his cancer treatment. It's not exactly rocket science to figure him out when--" Cassius cuts himself off, standing up. "You need rest."

"I need Lex."

That flicker again. And it's a bad idea to sit up, Clark knows it, but he does it anyway, ignoring every painful stretch of muscle, roil of nausea, arrows of pain that actually seem to be trying to cut him open, because he needs Cassius to see this, to get it.

"Clark, there's nothing we can do. He's had time to put this together. You think you can figure out something better?"

In only a few hours? Clark grins back, surprised at the hardness in it. Lois will be here very soon. "Try me."


Clark thinks Cassius is just humoring him when he brings his jeans from somewhere in the closet. Clark tries to remember when he brought them over or even if he did, but again, the idea of Mercy wandering through his closet is just a little too disturbing to linger over too long. A long sleeve t-shirt is unearthed, a little small, but Clark's going to have to work with that.

It's like trying to move wrapped in honey. Cassius watches him struggle with the jeans, and if Clark had had the energy to spare, he probably would have been yelling. Midnight. Every tick of the alarm clock beside the bed is like counting off the remaining seconds of Lex's life.

And why? Of all the ways Lex could go about this, he chooses this way. Superman had always been willing to die to save others, but he'd also liked the idea of surviving, too. Lex is like--like someone who doesn't have anything to lose, anything to return to, like he doesn't even care if he--

"Fuck that," Clark murmurs to himself, and flushes when Cassius looks at him. "You know the savior thing? If he's trying it out for a fit, did he ever notice that we really *don't* try to get ourselves killed during? I mean--two years. There had to have been another way."

Cassius, leaning back in a chair by the door, shrugs. "If you hadn't put off meeting with me, this would have been a hell of a lot easier."

Well, yes, there's that. "If I'd known--is this what you wanted to tell me?"

Cassius pinches the bridge of his nose lightly, eyes closing. He looks like a man who hasn't seen a bed for several days, all too-wide eyes and too-sharp movements. Long fingers push briefly against too-thin temples before Cassius' eyes go distant and bleak.

"The penthouse isn't lined with lead," Cassius says softly, blinking rapidly before snapping back. "Want to know how many people in this building have under five years to live?"

Shuddering, Clark tries to work the button on his jeans. His fingers feel thick and clumsy, refusing to hold the button, and Clark closes his eyes to concentrate better. There. Got it. Opening his eyes, Clark looks at Cassius, thin and too-pale and Jesus. No lead.

"Kryptonite." Keep him talking, keep him distracted. "His entire store?"

"Most of it. He designed a kind of bomb--such a useful background in biochem engineering," Cassius says a little sharply. "He sold the original prototypes--non-Kryptonite based, of course--to see their range in a non-laboratory setting."

All those little events Lex had referred to in their shared history. Clark shakes his head. Lex loves mind games even if he's the only one that knows they're being played. "China, arms trading. That idiotic black market ring that didn't make any sense when we found out about it." Yeah, even Bruce had been surprised at the information. "He wasn't making any money. Bruce thought--" Bruce had thought at the time there was more to it. "He was practically giving them away."

"Practically, but not quite. He needed to find out how big an area they were going to contaminate. The ones he sold were gas based, so not exactly the best tests available, but computer simulations using the data were better than purely theoretical."

Oh damn.

"If it's any consolation, the ones sold weren't exactly lethal. More--a warning shot to whatever dissenters there were out there." Cassius' smile twists. "It was used for the spread of democracy in autocratic countries--"

Clark doesn't need to know this, really. "I remember the body count." It's kind of disturbing that he and Lex were almost on the same side. The people Lex sold his bombs to were also the ones Clark had been saving pretty regularly from the government.

"So does he."

Gritting his teeth together, Clark sits up, reaching for the shirt. This might be complex. His arms just don't want to stay under control. Shit.

"And he found out the range?"

"Enough to decide it would have to be the Fortress for this. No where else far enough away from human habitation and the ground contamination's going to be amazing. Worse than Smallville, if the computer's right."

Oh fuck. What animals live up there anyway? Clark pushes it out of his head. No time right now.

"You never asked about the gold Kryptonite."

Clark freezes with his head consumed in cashmere and one arm bent awkwardly over his head. Really uncomfortable, not a little annoying, and totally ridiculous. Grimacing, he jerks it down over his face, catching Cassius' eye.

"What about it?"

Cassius looks--indecently gleeful. Like Lois when she comes across a really great story. Oh damn. What now?

"You didn't ask why Lex didn't think to use that." Cassius gets jerkily to his feet, palms wiping straight lines across both thighs.

"I--" Thought that would be obvious. "I didn't even know it existed until I found it. Lex didn't know until I had already--"

No, that's not right. Lex knew before. Right, he'd had Clark watched, Clark had known that for years, but-- Clark watches Cassius cross the room, jerking the curtains back with one shaky hand. It's past sundown, dull orange and bleak and brilliant, and they're running out of time. Jesus, please, let Lois have gotten through to Bruce. Let her be on her way here. Let Lex have not anticipated something.

"Okay, I'm asking." Cassius is staring out like he's watching the end of the world, and Clark tries to curb his instinctive sympathy. He's feeling too much, from the people all around him, and why the fuck hadn't Lex ever thought of coating his private dwelling with lead? And does Clark really care about the answer to that? "Cassius!"

Even to himself, his voice sounds too sharp, but the man snaps back into the room and finds Clark on the bed. Oh damn. He's going to be falling apart any minute now. Clark knows the signs of shock when he sees him. How the hell had he functioned on his own before Lex and lead?

"Right." Letting the curtains fall, Cassius paces the length of the room. A slightly manic smile is turning up one corner of his mouth. "Yes, gold kryptonite. Not red or green, completely different. You know the difference?"

"No." Besides the obvious, he means? Fuck. Worry makes getting socks on easier, even with clumsy hands and sucky hand-eye coordination. It's like being sixteen all over again. At least he won't accidentally tear the sock like paper when he starts shaking. "I mean, not really, besides what it does."

"Yes, what it does. Interesting stuff, your Kryptonite. With the right radiation levels, the right brain patterns, and just that right moment, does amazing things, doesn't it?" The edge of bitterness makes Clark wince, but he's used to the automatic stab of guilt these days. It never gets easier. Clark wonders if it ever will. "A little sunlight, a little catalyst, humans get anything they want."

"Sort of." Clark wishes he could have seen Lex's lab results, what he'd found out over the years. Something. Anything.

"Anything," Cassius murmurs. "Freedom from illness, touch of death, power--but you knew that, didn't you, Clark?"

"Yes." Bitterly, thanks. Shoes on the floor, where he left them last night. Too far to reach, and fuck if Clark will crawl if he can help it. Grabbing the nightstand, Clark levers himself to his feet, working through dizziness and nausea. Five steps, sit down on the rug. It's comfortable. He and Lex had sex on it once. This won't be nearly as much fun.

"So you have to ask yourself, why not use that? Why not go the non-lethal way?"

"Because there isn't enough of it?" Clark answers sharply. The rock he'd found had been tiny, and the Fortress hadn't been sure it'd work at all. Only one shot, just enough for one alien to do what he had to, and-- "Hold on."

Cassius spins on his heel--fast, sharp, almost frightening, and Clark watches the man loom over him like some huge spectre of death and destruction. The only link Clark's got to Lex is slowly falling to pieces, and God, Lois, get here. Get here. Get here now.

"What--what do you know about it?"

"That it's not natural." Cassius grins, revealing too many teeth and what could be the beginning of something like insanity. "You know how many tests we ran before Lex could figure out what it did?"

Oh Jesus Christ. Is there any part of his life that Lex hasn't tried to rearrange? Clark shoves on a shoe, clumsily knotting the laces into some kind of order, then grabs for the second one. "You--you made it?"

Cassius laughs. "No. You did."

The shoe falls from nerveless fingers. "What?"

Rocking back on his heels, Cassius shakes his head. "Keep up, Clark. Years of exposure, and Lex has almost every piece you've ever been exposed to. And it gives you whatever you want. Guess what happens when you want something so badly you'd die for it."

Clark shoves the shoe on, trying to tune out the voice in his head. Lex's ring, Lex's toys, Lex's store that Superman has spent a lot of time around in one form or another. "That--" Makes so much sense. "Lex found it."

"He--he and Rhinestadt couldn't figure it out, what to do with it. There wasn't much, you understand, and the radiation signal was analyzed for almost a year. Then it clicks--I don't know how, don't ask. And Rhinestadt says--"

"Says we don't need green Kryptonite anymore," Clark whispers, shoe laces forgotten in one hand. "Because this will take care of it."

"I always thought you were brighter than you let on." Cassius steps back, almost falling into the chair. Even from here, Clark can see the sweat breaking out across the man's forehead. "Just enough for one try. Filter enough yellow light through, just like kryptonite, get the right person, say a good isolation chamber--"

"And he's got the answer to the end of the world."

But that would be far too easy, Clark thinks, staring down at his shoes. Lex gets his miracle and-- "But he gave it to me."

Clark doesn't need to see Cassius nod.

"That fucking moron." Anger gets Clark to his feet, and wow, emotional overload's really great for tuning out physical pain. "He had an answer! He--he could have--" Could have just used that. Instead, no, that'd be too easy for Lex, and why the fuck do it the easy and quick way when you can turn it insanely complex. "But he gives it to me." Clark gets what he wanted most and Lex gets Superman out of the way. Clever, clever Lex.

To think he'd never even thought how convenient this all was. How everything just fell into place like it'd been planned, because Lex is just that fucking good at strategy. Fucking hell. "Is there any part of my life he didn't control? Tell me he wasn't planning on marrying me off to Lois now that he's playing martyr?"

Fuck him. Fuck Cassius, too, though Clark feels kind of guilty about that part, but hey, he's got reason. Lex wouldn't ever tell Superman the truth, so instead, insanely complex plots in plots, and only Lex could have pulled this off and almost gotten away with it.

Almost being the operative word.

Sucking in a breath, Clark goes back to the bed, allowing himself the luxury of sitting down. "Is it reversible?"

Cassius murmurs something, but Clark's not sure the man's still in the room at all. "Cassius, is it reversible?" Strange, how it doesn't seen like a sacrifice at all.

When Cassius looks up, he almost seems sad. "I don't know. And even if I did, you have the only piece in existence."

No, the Fortress has the only piece in existence. It hadn't been very active--in fact, the Fortress hadn't been entirely sure the process would work the way its projections were showing, but-- "Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck him. I--" Clark looks at Cassius. "What happened to him? What--what changed?"

Because love or not, Clark knows Lex. Something happened. "Did he ever mention sheep herding in Tibet?"

Cassius grins a little, shaking his head. "Clark, those are questions only Lex knew the answer to."

"I'll be getting them from him, then." Lois. Need Lois, need Bruce, need the entire Justice League, but God.... Think. If Bruce goes straight up there--

"Fuck." Oh damn. Sliding over, Clark grabs for the phone, dialing Lois' number by memory.

The first ring it's picked up. "Smallville."

Clark breathes out. "Tell me where you are." Laying back on the bed, Clark indulges his body for a few long minutes.

"According to Mr. Wayne, less than an hour outside Metropolis airport. Don't ask. Looks like Luthor and Kent aren't the only one with secrets."

She's going to kick his ass when all this is over. Fuck. Rubbing his temples, Clark tries to think.

"Tell him I'll meet you at Lex's private airfield. And he can't leave, not until I talk to him."

"I'll put him on--"

Oh hell no. Clark's never up to conversation with Bruce Wayne. Just--no. "No time. I'm leaving now. Lois, don't let him leave Metropolis. I don't care what it takes. I--I think I know what to do, but if he goes up there alone--"

"Aliens."

"Right. Go for two. Lex made a deal. What would happen if they figure out someone besides Lex is up there?"

Lois blows out a short breath. "I'll take care of it. Anything else?"

Clark smiles grimly. "Tell me again Superman is just a state of mind."

The quiet's thoughtful. "Tell me you never stopped believing it. We'll see you there." She clicks off--Clark doesn't envy either of them the conversation about to take place, but Lois will win. She always does. Sitting up, Clark looks at Cassius.

"Can you drive?"

The man starts, like he forgot Clark was there at all. Okay. You can do this, Kent. Up, one two three.

"I--think so."

Good. Great. "Get--get some keys. You know where he keeps them. We don't have much time left."

Cassius eyes narrow, and Clark finds his feet.

"What do you think you're going to do, exactly?" Cassius asks, and Clark almost rolls his eyes.

"That depends on how fucking fast you get those keys and how well you drive standard. I'm getting my phone. I'll meet you by the door." Turning stiffly, Clark finds it in him to walk--back straight, head up, some long-ago P.E. teacher's voice telling him how authority is more than just the person in the skin. And maybe Cassius believes him, or hell, maybe he's just bored, because Clark hears the door open behind him. Going to the closet, Clark holds onto the doorframe and lowers himself down, deliberately not breathing as he retrieves his coat from among the ruined shoes.

Not--pleasant. This is nothing, Clark. Remember the mud slide in Bulgaria. Or--something that isn't regurgitated hamburger and fruit. The pocket where the phone is located is clean enough, and Clark pulls it out. Pushing it into his pocket, he lets the dizziness take over for a few moments, then grabs the doorframe again.

On his feet. Got it. The room looks impossibly huge, and God, it's going to be an epic journey to the front door, but hey. This is what superheroes do. They go great distances and save people. But he's challenging any one of the Justice League to try it when they feel like their stomach's trying to crawl out of their mouth. Slowly.

Oddly, Cassius is just outside the bedroom door, and Clark almost--almost yells, but the sparkle of the keys and a square piece of plastic in Cassius' hand stops the words, and Clark really didn't have the energy to do that anyway. A strong shoulder braces itself under his arm, and Clark wonders a little as he settles his arm across Cassius. Each step's slow, but so much easier.

"You change your mind?" Clark asks as they slowly make their way down the hall. The front door is looking possible, even likely. Only a few hundred floors and a garage to go. Lex just had to live at the top of his building. Couldn't go for something closer to the ground.

"More or less. These are the keys and access card to the airfield. I called down. A car's waiting for us out front."

Oh. That was better than Clark's plan. And really obvious, too. Taking a deep breath, Clark grits his teeth, ignores his jaw, and wonders if dental work is in his future.

It--doesn't get any easier. Clark's legs want to let go and his head's about to fall off, and Christ, humanity has some seriously sucky points. How do people handle feeling like this? Right, with bed and juice and solicitous spouses or parents, they don't have to run after their delusional lovers. The idea of living with Lex has a growing charm--he can be absolutely sure he never goes through this again. Next time, Lex's ass will be as pinned to the bed as Clark's wants to be, and there will be liquids in bed being served to him involved. And maybe a massage or three.

"What--did he give me?"

"Nothing serious." Cassius says, figuring out what Clark meant as the elevator starts moving. "You'll be fine in a day or two."

"I need to be fine now, thanks." Clark watches the little elevator lights blur into one long streak. Fuck fuck fuck. He forgot his glasses. "Can't you give me anything?"

"B-complex and some Vitamin E, but it won't really help that much." Cassius makes a hoarse sound, like someone just hit him in the gut. Clark doesn't want to know who he felt just then. "I'm never leaving my office again. Ever."

"Don't blame you." The last light flicks and the doors open smoothly. Lobby, not too many people. All of them stare, though. Clark really doesn't care. No reporters can get inside Lex's building. Outside's a different story.

That they're flanked with people in suits as soon as they step outside the door makes Clark pause, but Cassius just jerks him along, waiting while one of the suits opens the passenger side door, then inserts Clark in like a kid into a car seat.

"Who--"

"That bodyguard you didn't know about."

Huh. Clark watches the door close, putting them behind illegally-dark tinted windows while he struggles with his seatbelt, and Cassius slides in. He looks like he's just about ready to die, but at least he's not shaking anymore, which still makes him better than Clark is right now. "They're following us, aren't they?"

"Pretty much." Turning the ignition, Cassius gives the gear shift an interested look. "This should be interesting."

Oh fuck. "You can drive standard, right?"

The grin Cassius throws him is just on this side of insane. "Does it count if I've watched Lex a lot?"

Clark doesn't answer--doesn't have time to answer.

"Airfield?" Cassius says, pulling out into the street without bothering to check on traffic. They're going to die.

"My apartment first," Clark says, closing his eyes. "There's something I need to pick up."


Cassius drives like Lex, and it scares him that Lex might have found his car soulmate right here. There shouldn't be two people in the world who act like this behind the steering wheel. Lex at least has his healing thing to explain his belief in his own immortality, but Cassius--

They make a hairpin turn onto the freeway, and Lex's little airstrip in just ahead. Maybe he could see it. If he's stupid enough to open his eyes, that is.

"I should have asked for a helicopter," Clark mutters, eyes closed. He lost whatever remained in his stomach just outside his apartment, with Ms Shanley observing that at his age, he should party a little less.

"So do you have an actual plan yet?" asks Cassius as he practices the fine art of dodging. This is like a huge game of pinball or something. How do these people get licenses? "Or did you bring some anti-Kryptonian weapons in your little backpack there?"

Clark can't drive right now. But it's growing more tempting by the second to try.

"Yes, I have a plan. You know, I've been saving the world for over a decade. I just might actually know what I'm doing when it comes to this sort of thing." At least, he thinks so.

"You had powers, then."

Clark grins through the headache. He's having it amputated later. "I have powers now. You're just looking for the wrong ones."

Traffic had slowed them down a lot. Clark wishes he had the courage to look at the clock on the console, but can't quite face that yet. That will lead to panic, and panic leads to a reminder of how his body just isn't cut out for this right now. Keep his stomach quiet, work through the headache, and later, much later, in a much fairer future, Cassius the oh so great doctor and geneticist is going to design a virus that Lex can catch. Or something. Because in that fair future, he's going to do something incredibly stupid and make Lex come rescue him when he feels like absolute shit.

"Why are you doing this?" Cassius asks, and Clark wonders what he means. Who else can? It's not like Clark's been given a lot of options here. "You know, you and Lex--I don't understand. You fought each other for years. I won't even tell you the things he called you when he got drunk--"

"Don't worry. He's just as likely to say them sober at the top of his lungs when he's pissed," Clark answers. Ah, the good old days. When Clark wasn't sick and Lex wasn't suicidal, just egotistical and somewhat on the edge of megalomaniacal. Clark's almost nostalgic. "It's--hard to explain." More like impossible. "Haven't you ever been in love?"

"No." But he can hear the shock in Cassius voice. "You're doing it for that?"

Clark shrugs and regrets it. "Everyone does it for that in the end. They just don't like to call it that. Too pat an answer." The jerks of the car aren't exactly comforting, but Clark imagines Cassius is getting better at controlling the car. There seem to be fewer of them. "Why do you think I was Superman? Because I really liked those tights?"

The silence is too--something. Like Cassius is thinking. They're out of populated areas, so maybe he's getting his composure back. This might or might not be a good thing.

"You loved the world that much?" Biting sarcasm. Clark doesn't even wince.

"Enough to stop doing it when I knew I'd hurt it more than I could help," Clark answers. "You want absolutes, talk to Lex. He likes them better. He's always liked impossible standards and being able to hate himself when he fails to live up to them. It makes it easier."

"Easier to what?"

"To give up having any." Lexian psychology. Clark thinks he's learning it. Maybe. "How much longer?"

"Five minutes. The roads are atrocious."

"Can you see if Bruce has landed yet?"

The little pause almost tempts Clark to open his eyes, but it's really better if he doesn't. His sight sucks anyway. "If by Bruce, you mean a bizarre black plane sitting the middle of Lex's airfield, probably." There's a pause that stretches, and Clark wonders why Bruce--

"Clark, why is Batman in Metropolis?"

Clark wishes he'd kept his mouth shut. He'd asked for this one.

"Never mind." The Justice League at this rate wouldn't have a secret identity left between them. It's almost funny. Clark wonders what kind of sanctions are put on former superheroes who out other superheroes. He might as well write a tell-all book. The dirty secrets of the Justice League; he'd sell millions, maybe billions. He can see this. "How much--"

"Shut up, Clark. I'm trying to figure out why Lex would let the roads get this bad. Jesus." They bounce--pothole, Clark surmises, and he puts his head on his knees and swallows hard. Not getting sick. Not in this car. Clark's killed Lex's shoe collection. A Porsche being destroyed would just be icing on the cake.

"Yeah, we're--security's gone." Cassius sounds surprised.

Clark snickers. "Batman probably took care of it. Just drive through. Hurry." Something like relief's already thickening in him, making everything clear and less utterly terrifying. Lois is here. Bruce is here. He can do this.

Cassius drives through the parking lot, circling some overgrown building where Clark's pretty sure Lex houses slightly illegal aviation items of interest, and then makes a break for the chain that separates the parking lot from the air strip. Oh. Well, that's a good idea. And he can throw up in Lex's Porsche with impunity, because no way in hell Lex will ever use this car again.

He's hysterical.

When Cassius comes to a stop, Clark lets his eyes open completely. Yes, that's Batman's plane. And that's Lois, so calm, collected, and utterly herself Clark's tempted to simply fall into her arms and let her take over. She's already moving toward them even before Cassius skids to a highly unprofessional stop.

His door is opened with no ceremony at all and the smell of smoke, leather, and expensive perfume overwhelm him. "You look like shit, Smallville."

Clark grins up at her. Perfect make-up, flawless coordination of all accessories, and also unnaturally strong, since she undoes his seatbelt and hauls him out. If there'd been anything left in his stomach, he would have ruined her pantsuit.

"I've missed you," Clark says into her hair, trying not to put too much weight on her. Gently, she braces him against the car, looking him over with a quick, clever eye.

"How do you feel?"

"Remember that time with the Kryptonite and the guy who liked to use it as lotion and he put it on me? Worse."

Lois grins, bright and fast. "Welcome to humanity. What--"

"Bag. Get my bag. We've got to--" Clark shudders, half turning to see Lois' eyes fixed inside. "Cassius. Come on."

There's a moment where the man doesn't move.

"Stop smoking, Miss Lane," Cassius says, and Clark almost knocks his own head into the car. Beside him, he feels Lois stiffen, then the name clicks.

"Tomorrow," she answers slowly. "I don't believe we've been introduced. We can do that on the plane."

Clark leans inside the car, looking at Cassius. Dark, glittering eyes and the man's on the very edge. Lex must have kept him under a lot of pressure these last two years. "If he gets hurt, he'll be hurt pretty badly. You're the one who treats him. Come on. We don't have time." Clark hears something like a hysterical giggle erupt. He's getting lightheaded. Fluids would be good here. Surely Bruce has some in his little toy. "Come on. Haven't you ever wanted to save the world?"

The pause lasts forever or maybe no time at all, then Cassius turns the key, eyes fixed on Clark.

"You're--"

"The best ever at what I do," Clark answers, holding Cassius' gaze. "Remember, I'm the only one who ever beat Lex Luthor at anything. Or even came close."

It's a little triumph when the car door opens, and Clark lets Lois' arm go around him, holding him up. She really is strong--a second of bracing, then she kicks off her heels, dropping her height a little but getting her balance easily, ruining one hundred percent silk stockings. He supposes his credit card can stand the hit this will cost him. Taking as much of his weight as Cassius did, she starts them moving smoothly, his bag over one shoulder. "You want to explain now?"

"Three Kryptonians, one Lex, one martyr complex. I think I know a better way."

"Fair enough. Bruce isn't happy about being outed, but we had a lovely chat." Clark wishes he could see Lois' mouth, because he knows she's smiling. "Watch your step, Smallville."

Clark nods, mouth dry. "What I want to know is how he's getting into the Fortress. It shouldn't have let him in."

Lois laughs softly. "Two years, right? He probably just annoyed the AI until it gave in to get him to shut up. How are you?"

"Well. If I'd eaten recently, it'd be worse. Jesus, I'm going to kill him for this." It's taking forever, and Clark has the uncomfortable suspicion if he slows down, Lois might try carrying him. And might even succeed. He's still a guy. His pride's not up for that. Forcing his feet to move, Clark looks up to see the plane very close. "How unhappy is Bruce?"

Lois snickers softly and the arm around him tighten. "You'll see for yourself."


Bruce isn't happy.

Clark's not surprised, exactly, but he does wish Bruce would be unhappy less--noticeably. A bottle of vitamin fortified water--what else can you expect from Bruce?--and the crackers Lois always carries are settling uncomfortably in his stomach, but at least he feels slightly less as if he should be on an IV in a hospital.

The plane is new. For one, good passenger compartment. The downside, it looks a lot like the expected passengers would be bad guys, and Clark's just not sure how he feels about watching the cockpit through bars, even if the door's open.

It just feels like he's giving Bruce a little too much of a psychological edge, and Bruce has plenty of edge already.

"Clark Kent." He hasn't gotten over that yet. "I don't believe this."

"Yeah. Welcome to my other life." Bruce has always made Clark want to do really stupid, alpha-male things, like grunt and ask how much he bench-presses, but Bruce, he knows, can pretty much bench-press the average cow. Clark's seen Bruce's home gym. In other words, Clark's officially out of his league in human terms these days. "Um. How much farther?"

He wonders if the question is beginning to annoy anyone. At this point, he's beginning to annoy himself.

Lois passes him the water bottle and checks his temperature with the inside of her wrist. "You seen cooler. How do you feel?"

"Like crap." Clark would like nothing more than to drop his head in her lap and tell her and Bruce to do this. Oh well. "Any more aspirin?"

"Yes, but you'll make yourself sick if you have any more." Cassius this time, curled up in a far seat, looking a little better. Exposure to Bruce's almost violent good health probably restored him somewhat. Clark doesn't know of any illness that would dare come near the man.

"Great." Rubbing his forehead, Clark forces his eyes fully open, taking long breaths. "Okay. We don't have cold-weather gear--"

"I do."

Of course Bruce does. Does he have some convenient nuclear weapons as well? Clark just really doesn't want to know.

"Anyway. Lex isn't going to implement the blowing up of the Fortress until he's got them isolated and away from any hope of getting back to their ship. So we've got a little leeway, timewise."

"Do we know how far they'll be scanning for other life forms?" Bruce asks.

Well, no, and that's a problem. Clark looks around the tiny compartment, eyes narrowed in thought. "Bruce, I know you have an uplink here somewhere. Even if the Fortress can't scan them, it may have an idea of what Kryptonians would be using." Are there other aliens? Maybe they borrowed from some other planet. Oh fuck, he's not going to make this more complex. "Where's a laptop?"

"You think I keep it in the passenger area?" Bruce sounds really amused. Oh fuck you. Of all people, Bruce should get this. The man's been in bed with Catwoman, after all. He's really in no position to judge. "Just a second. I'll hook it through the plane's computer."

Clark sighs softly. So much for private conversation. "Tell me when you've got access."

Sighing, Clark lets his head fall back.

"I can't even figure out what he's going to do," Clark says to the ceiling. "He's trading me, and I'm not even there to trade. They may take that badly and--" Just kill him right off, deal broken. They didn't need Lex for anything else. But Lex would have thought of that. Frowning, Clark tries to figure out what Lex *didn't* think of, besides the obvious.

It's like walking blind through a maze backwards. Lex is good at this sort of thing. But Clark's good at it, too.

"He'll want isolation," Lois says thoughtfully, and Clark turns his head enough to look at her. "So they can't run."

"If he has Kryptonite, they can't."

Lois gives Clark a long, amused look. "When your life's on the line, you've trotted yourself along or you'd be dead more times than I can count." Good point. "Inner room."

"Probably the main access chamber. I--"

"Clark, we've got a connection. The Fortress wants identification."

Clark raises his head. "Hey, Fortress."

"Identify yourself."

"Kal-El, you know my voice, so don't start the high security shit. How the hell did Lex Luthor gain access?" Clark's got to know.

The AI's pause is long.

"There is no one by that designation--"

"Right." Clark sees Lois looking at him. "He told it he's not there and it believed him."

"Do I want to know?"

Clark closes his eyes, shaking his head. "The AI is still a computer, dependent on its programming and what it's told. Just like we rely on our senses to tell us. He must have gotten to the core programming. Not a huge surprise--he's been working on that for years." And with the added incentive of three Kryptonians who might use the Fortress for interesting pursuits? Oh yeah. Sighing, Clark makes a note to find out how Lex got the programming skills to do it. "Okay, scan for non-human lifeforms. Check--" Clark takes a breath, trying to work astrophysics in his head. "I'm thinking ship."

"Ship?" The AI sounds interested. "What--"

"Three Kryptonians."

The pause this time sounds unhappy. "There are no other--"

"Except off-planet, apparently, and by the way, thanks for the warning on that one that you didn't deliver. There's a ship and three of them. Do a complete sweep--if they're planning on a midnight landing, they should be in really obvious range here."

Clark takes another drink from the water bottle pressed into his hand.

"Located."

Well, wasn't that easy? And does the AI sound guilty?

"Can you tell me what kind of range their sensors would have off-planet? And what they'd have on-planet, for that matter." Giving the water bottle back to Lois, Clark concentrates. He just can't face throwing up again. Illness just sucks.

"Insufficient data."

Of course. Because that would be easy. "Okay. Do an internal diagnostic and find out what the fuck Luthor fed you to shut down your internal sensors. He's in there and I need to know where. Hurry."

The AI makes a sound that might be offended, but Clark really doesn't care. "Bruce, kill the uplink. They might be able to sense that. Hell, for all I know, they can sense us already. Find me--Jesus--" He can do this. Breathing out, Clark gets upright and rubs a hand over his forehead. "Bruce, this beats radar, right?"

"Of course."

Which--really doesn't help. This is going to be by luck alone. "I need to get into the Fortress and I need you close enough to pick me and Lex up before it blows. The weather conditions are bad--lets assume that they're not that good at filtering through interference."

"You know what assumptions--"

Oh fuck you. You try rewriting someone else's plan. "I am open to any suggestions you have here. And no, calling in the Justice League isn't going to work, but the second I go in, you get them on alert. If this doesn't work, three of me are going to be wandering around free on this planet with their very own spaceship. Lex probably informed whoever his contact is with the government, but that leave the rest of the planet to find out the hard way." Not that Clark plans to fail.

Bruce doesn't answer and Clark looks down, trying to find his bag. "Lois--"

"Here." She drops it in his lap. "Bruce has cold weather gear. He's been kind enough to allow me to use it."

Clark looks at her. "You're kidding."

"Oh, because you can walk upright so well?" She snorts. "I'll stay out of the way, but if you're doing what I think you're going to do, falling over in front of them isn't going to help the impression."

Clark feels something tighten in his chest, and reaching out, he grabs both her hands. They feel--breakable again, like they haven't since he'd changed. This sudden, vicious reminder of how fragile she really was. "Lois--"

"Clark." She grins, bright and fast, before finding her feet, and he watches her move toward the back compartments, opening the barred door. "Get changed, Smallville. Be right back."

Clark glances towards the front of the plane. Bruce is flying like it's any mission in the world, except it's nothing like it. Levering himself to his feet, he navigates his way to the cockpit, sitting gingerly in the copilot's seat. "Where's Dick?"

"Informing the Justice League and getting ready for your worst case scenario," Bruce answers shortly. "We should bring them all in."

Clark hesitates. "Bruce, if push came to shove and I'd gotten delusions of taking over the world, there's no way you all could have stopped me. Even with your Kryptonite weapons."

He gets a flickering look that's as good as confirmation. "You know about that?"

"Surprisingly, I do get the idea of security." Clark remembers being comforted in some strangely masochistic way when he'd found out. If--if this hadn't worked, if he'd gone crazy, maybe Bruce could have slowed him down. Bruce and Lex together could maybe have even stopped him. "This will work."

"The way Lex is doing it will work, too," Bruce says, but Clark sees the tightening of the man's mouth. Clark's never quite understood how Bruce and Lex relate--less than friendship, more than polite acquaintances and occasional business partners, some shifting surface of a relationship that's survived longer and more consistently than Lex and Clark had. Leaning into the seat, Clark tries to gather his thoughts, watching Bruce sort through his own.

"If it fails--" Clark pauses, glancing back at Cassius briefly. Still curled up tight and small in his seat. Maybe he hasn't recovered from unshielded access to the world yet after all. "Cassius needs to be shielded behind lead--Lex took care of him and you have to, too. There's--other things that have to be handled. He'll tell you everything you need to know."

Bruce almost seems to smile. "Now you think you'll fail?"

Clark thinks about it, tapping his fingers into the console, avoiding the dangerous looking and unlabeled buttons that litter the surface. Clark would give a lot to see what this thing can do.

"Have I ever?"

Bruce gives him a look. Clark wishes he'd lose the cowl, just for the ride. It's just--creepy. It was creepy when he was Superman, too.

"You never tried to do it as a human, either."

Clark shrugs. "If I were Superman, I'd be a lot more worried about my chances." Standing up, he grabs for the seat at a wave of dizziness, waiting patiently for it to pass. "Have some faith in your species. How fast is your take-off?"

Bruce frowns a little. "How close are you cutting it?"

"Fine as a hair. Be ready. I'm going to go change. I'd tell you to get out of range, but you won't listen, so just keep the uplink once we get there. When the AI starts sounding panicky, that probably means move. Uplink now. The AI should at least have figured out how Lex has been playing with it. With any kind of luck, you can get access to internal sensors here after we go in, at least observational."

Bruce nods. "It's ten to midnight," he says quietly, and Clark swallows, looking out at the Fortress coming up in the arctic night. He hasn't come back since the day he left as human, and he'd thought that would be for the last time.

It's--a patently surreal sight, to see the small ship appear, gunmetal grey and strangely innocuous as it makes landing. The Fortress's roof has plenty of room, the ship settling in as if it were meant to be there, making Clark suspect this was Kryptonian after all.

Bruce is recording everything.

"They're not making any sign they know we're here," Bruce remarks as Lois helps Clark get parka and snow pants on. Weird feeling pants. Makes Lex want to ask about Bruce's obsession with latex, but this probably isn't the time. "Hmm. I wonder--"

"Drop us off and move fast. Is there any chance you can tell when they've left the ship?"

"Monitoring." The pause lasts forever. "Okay, they're in."

"Let's hope the ship doesn't do automatic scans." Sitting down, Clark looks at Lois. "You know--"

"Don't bore me. Just tell me what to do."

Clark nods. "Computer, where's Luthor located?"

"Main access chamber."

Clark nods, getting a visual. "Three doors, below ground level, no outer walls. That's the most inner room. Good choice. If he can bring all the doors down, he might even contain the explosion a little." A very little. Clark wishes he'd had time to look over the specs on the actual weapon Lex was planning to use. The China versions he and Bruce had studied were only rough drafts.

"How will you get in?" Lois now, fixing her hood. "You said your DNA scan--"

"Well, I never actually tested that," Clark answers. There's a sharp pain behind one eye that keeps distracting him. "Voice print should be enough. If it comes to that--Bruce, what are you packing?"

There's a little start and Clark laughs. "Come on. I know you take them everywhere, in case of sudden meltdown of Superman."

"Weapons locker." Bruce really doesn't like being aware he doesn't have that many secrets. Clark would almost pity him if he had time. Rubbing his forehead, he looks around the room, but Lois is already on her way, opening the locker and packing whatever looks interesting in his now-empty bag. "Medical supplies are in the cabinet over from that."

"Blow that ship," Clark says. "Give us ten minutes, then fire and run--with any luck, that will ignite Lex's bomb if we can't do it from inside. If we're not out by then, we're not going to be out, and get everyone awake and ready. Those weapons you saw at NASA, Lois--"

"Ground weapons. That's what I found out," Lois says quietly. "All key positions in the United States. Kryptonite-based, if I'm right. They're ready."

Clark nods. "Open her up, Bruce."

Bruce hesitates. "No closer?"

"They haven't figured out we're right here so far and this is close enough." He hopes. Whatever was in that water's giving him something. Or maybe this is adrenaline, like that day with Lex in the gym, and Clark grins through the sudden start of energy that somehow kicks the illness to the curb and leaves it there for a bit. He only needs a few minutes.

The Arctic sucked even when he'd been Superman and didn't improve with being human, but Clark would know his way blindfolded and handcuffed. It's not too far, and he keeps an arm around Lois, closing his eyes against the cold briefly. The outline of the Fortress is grey and distant, but that's an illusion of wind and bad eyesight.

A lot of really strange thing are running through his head on some kind of fast forward. Fifteen and meeting Lex for the first time, the woodchipper and Dad's face, more almost-near-misses than he can count. How it felt the first time he ran faster than the speed of the wind, the first time he flew, the first time he broke the sound barrier. His first kiss with Chloe. With Lana. With Lex.

Lois is moving like she's used to being in snow and ice, no problems there--he's so glad she's never lost her training, so glad she's here at all, and he squeezes once, hoping she can feel it through the insulated material. There's a comm unit tucked into his ear, and into Lois', but those will stop working the second they get in the Fortress.

When Clark gets to the wide door, he looks at the sensors and waits, imagining he can feel them sweep him, though that's impossible. "Identify Kal-El." When the doors open, Clark takes a breath and speaks into the comm. "Start time now. Ten minutes, Bruce."

When the door close behind them, Clark leans into the metal and lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding.

"Thought so," Lois murmurs, losing the hood. "Where from here?"

"Right, right, left, and down. It's below ground level." That could also help containing the explosion. "Lex will have put the charges around the main room and below. He's either using a timer or doing it himself. If it's a timer, we just have to move fast. If it's not, we disable the Kryptonians and drag Lex out."

"If the Fortress blocks comm signals, will a remote detonation take?"

Clark smiles grimly. "When Bruce blows that little ship up there? Won't matter. Chain reaction. We just have to be out before it does."

Lois nods and unzips the bag, efficiently sorting through what she'd found. A few things that look like guns, a few things that don't look like anything Clark's ever seen, and what appears to be an M-16. "He never shows me his coolest toys," Clark says, kneeling. "How much of this can you use?"

Lois' eyebrow raises. "All of it, of course. Dad was thorough and I keep up with technology. Pick something you can hide easily. I'll come in on the--west side?"

"That'll be left, left, right. The doors will open for me but not for you, I think, so be ready. Get going." Reaching over, he grabs her hand. "If--in ten minutes, get out. No matter what happens, get yourself out, promise me--"

"You owe me stockings." Lois looks at him with a kind of amused affection. "You and Luthor die, we all do. That's your incentive. Go." Waiting while Clark chooses one of the smaller handguns--where does Bruce get these things made anyway, and how does he explain wanting kryptonite-based bullets?--Clark strips down and watches Lois sling the bag over one arm, the M-16--Jesus, Bruce, they need to talk soon--disappear down the corridor.

Clark shrugs at the feel of the cape and tucks the gun in against his back. He's still running off whatever Bruce has in that water, and he has a little less than nine minutes to win.

Really, he's been in tighter situations.

Grabbing the wall briefly for balance, Clark starts moving.


The Plan, as stands, should be pretty simple in theory. One, shoot down the Kryptonians. This is one of those rare circumstances that Clark's going to say discussing the situation with them first just isn't going to cut it, and there's no foolproof way to contain them. There's a reason that Bruce has those weapons. With rogue superbeings, it's always going to be shoot to kill. Two, drag Lex out, somehow--Clark's not above knocking him in the head, and there's a nostalgic thought of Smallville. Find out what he's using, timer or remote. With Clark here, there's the possibility he can have the computer do it for them.

Or that old stand-by, self-destruct, but that has a required twenty minute countdown and Clark doesn't want to wait around watching injured Kryptonians get their energy back or throw a kink in his plans. And Clark's not even sure the computer will completely obey non-Kryptonian Clark. It's an AI but a program, too, and Clark's never bothered before to find out its real limits.

Better to depend on himself for this one. Clark grins. Lex would probably say the same thing.

Eight and a half minutes. Okay. Clark moves in range of the sensors and waits, hearing the low murmur of voices inside, too indistinct to make out words. Open. Open, dammit. If you let Lex in, you can damn well let me in, too. The sudden start of nausea makes him grab for the wall, and oh God, he should not have eaten those crackers. They seem to be headed north.

Oh damn, he's getting Lex for this one. No one should have to save the world while they're this sick.

The soft blip of the door makes Clark straighten, dragging himself upright, trying to remember how to breathe like it's something he does all the time. Right. Superman. Invincible. Do it.

"Welcome home, Kal-El. Kind of you to tell the computer you were arriving." Male voice, very smug, not at all Lex.

Damn.

Like Clark told Lois, the AI is smart but also stupid. It's a computer. If you tell it something in the right way, it'll believe it. Clark gets a glimpse of a woman seated at one of the stations, fingers moving busily. She's telling it something it believes.

Oh fuck.

"You can toss your weapon away now, Kal-El."

Fuck twice. X-ray vision. Clark reaches behind him wordlessly, groping for the gun and tossing it on the floor, listening with a faint sense of doom as the doors close behind him, sealing him in, Lois out.

"I'm accessing the foreign computer," the woman says calmly, a clipped edge to her voice that reminds Clark of Alfred. The dark head turns, giving him a brief, expressionless stare. About how you'd look at a bug. "What are your orders, General?"

General? Clark slowly takes in the room an inch at a time, trying to hide the second spurt of nausea with action. Short man, brown hair, looks a little stoned and reminds Clark vaguely of his freshman roommate. Peter? James? Something like that. Way too close to Lex. Close to the console, a taller man, who Clark's going on a hunch is the general in question. The one that's looking at him like he's been waiting his entire life for just this moment.

Or maybe that's Clark projecting a little, because--some part of him has been waiting for this all of his life, too. These are his--species. Were. Something. There's a faint trace of Jor-El in the strong line of the man's jaw, the lines around very green eyes. Green eyes that Clark's seen in his own mirror, but they've never looked like that. Like the entire universe is a toy to be played with at his leisure.

This is the mirror he ran to the Fortress from, exposed himself to Kryptonite to escape.

All three of them are trying out some parody of the future-alien-invader thing in solid black, and Clark wonders if they've been watching earth movies for tips. Right, he's feverish. Keep up, Kent.

"What do you think, Kal-El? Your allies outside, crash them or keep them?"

Clark swallows hard. He told Bruce to keep the uplink active. Dammit. "Leave them alone. You have me."

"Ah yes." The man's eyes flicker down and Clark follows to see Lex, leaning against the far wall, looking spectacularly bored. Very Lex, who hosts parties with people who sent assassins after him, and is currently sleeping with the man who regularly tried to get him thrown in jail. Kryptonian invaders probably can't really get to him that much.

They can hurt him, though. Clark can see it in the tight line of Lex's mouth, the way he presses his body against the wall, like maybe that's the only thing holding him up.

"You said he was dead, Luthor." The general seems pleased that he's not, and Clark doesn't like that at all.

"I overestimated, apparently," Lex says in a low, easy voice that hurts to listen to, blue eyes fixed on Clark with actual betrayal, like *Clark's* the one who poisoned people at and ran off to play martyr. Clark would give anything--anything at all--to have x-ray right now, see what they've done to him. His gaze skids down, pausing at the bright blue and cheery red of the suit. "Hello, Superman. I didn't expect you."

"I guess not." Clark watches the blue eyes flicker down, closing briefly. There should be some kind of code for this. Like, two blinks and that means it's a timer, one blink and it's me, doing it personally. A collapse means they've been torturing me for information or just for fun, but Clark shies away from that thought. They hadn't had Lex long enough to do much. But they did do something. "Any reason you're visiting earth?"

"Pretty planet," the general says, and Clark wishes they'd do like every other supervillain and start spurting out their names and plans. There's no good way to ask. Not that it's important, but-- "You seem to be enjoying yourself." The green eyes rake over Clark, taking in the uniform. "Interesting choice of attire."

Clark shrugs, edging slowly into the room, trying to look both threatening and not likely to make sudden moves. The shorter man almost immediately is at Lex's side, jerking him from the wall, one hand around his throat. Something about that bothers Clark, but his focus is fixed on the fingers pressing into the fragile throat, and he knows he's betrayed himself. "Not another move, Kal-El. Or he's dead."

"Do you think that would bother me?" His hands can't be shaking.

"I'm willing to test it." The fingers tighten and Clark doesn't move at all. "Good. We understand each other. Move a little farther from your weapon, Kal-El. I'd hate for any kind of misunderstandings of your intentions."

Clark steps away, pressing his hands into the wall, hoping they don't notice he's not exactly balancing all that well. He watches as the general picks up the gun, wincing when his fingers come in contact with the metal. The gun isn't pure lead, so the radiation from the Kryptonite bullets is leaking through. The hand closes tightly, then he tosses it to the side. Clark catches Lex watching the man with a curiously blank expression on his face, flicking down to the gun, then the blue eyes flicker to Clark, holding his gaze in some kind of unreadable message before the hard sound of the general's heels on the floor jerks Clark's gaze away.

"General?" The woman's voice is sharp. "Orders, sir?"

"Do they know we have access to their computer?" the general asks, keeping his eyes on Clark.

"Not yet, sir."

"How long have you had control of the computer?" Anything to keep them talking. Just keep them out of Bruce's computer until he can shoot that stupid ship.

"A few days." The General's smile is sharp. "Childishly easy to fool an AI. You should know that."

Well, that explains the wealth of non-information it had given. Just enough to get him in here. Just enough to get the uplink. Just enough to make it impossible for Bruce to take out that ship and--

"Let them go," Clark says. Lois is somewhere out there and they might not know about her. "They're not a threat to you."

He shrugs, shifting his stance to glance back at the woman. Names would really be good here. Lex keeps staring at the gun like it's some religious icon guaranteed for miracles, and there was a plan, right?

Right. His eyes flicker up to the door Lois would have come through. She's either trying to disable the panel or about to go about this the old fashioned way--just start shooting-- and Clark has no idea how many bullets it would take to get through that door.

"You followed me to this planet."

The General turns around, looking at Clark from behind narrowed eyes. Does he guess Clark just wants to keep him talking?

"Surprisingly easy to follow your trail once we searched outside the system, yes. We suspected your father wouldn't have decided to send you randomly into space without finding a decent planet for you to arrive at, safe and sound."

Well, that's logical.

"You don't need Luthor anymore," Clark says, and the General tosses Lex a quick glance. "You don't need any of them. Let them go." Open the door. Just for a minute.

"He was willing to betray you and you want to protect him?"

"Sort of my raison d'etre." They look confused, and Clark almost sighs. Right, this is the AI's translation matrix at work, and he never did get around to making sure it really understood what it was translating. "This is what I do."

"So what we've seen has led us to believe." The General turns in a less than perfectly military-straight pose, and crosses to the woman, glancing down at whatever she's reading. "What would you trade for his life? Information, perhaps?"

"What kind?" Clark shifts just a little down the wall--not enough to draw attention, he hopes, just enough to ease the pressure of his belt against his stomach. If he leaves the wall, he's going to fall and God, he needs more aspirin and fuck Cassius for not giving him painkillers, because if anyone on this planet deserves them right now, it's Clark. He's negotiating with idiots. They're superpowered. What the fuck do they need information for?

"Where the largest stash of Kryptonite is currently located," the General answers, and right. That makes sense. Clark hopes Lois is losing her temper. Right now.

"Under your feet."

All three look down briefly, as if they expect the entire floor to be green and glowing within seconds, then back up at him. Clark notices that the fingers around Lex's throat are loosening. And no Lois banging in the door. Fuck.

"What?"

Clark grins, forcing himself to look casual and not throw up. Maybe Cassius had a point about too much aspirin being bad for nausea. "You think I didn't plan for something like this?" Oh man, this is going to piss Lex off. Taking credit for his plan. "Would you like to hear a metric tonnage or just be aware how much longer you have before it blows? I'm all for it either way."

The blank shock's almost funny--Clark remembers that look on his own face every time Lex added some bizarre twist to his plans over the years. That look that means, I am dealing with a maniac.

"You wouldn't take that risk with yourself here."

Clark smiles sunnily. Will. Not. Get. Sick. "The only risk was making sure to get here before you left and keep you here."

The General's eyes narrow, and Clark can almost see him looking, and the Fortress isn't lead, he's going to see. Scanning the floor by inches, but--

"Where?" The General barks, turning to face him and taking a step toward him. Clark waits, expecting the superstrong hand at his throat--oh wow, he's going to be seriously connecting with the people's he's held like that--but.

But nothing. The General freezes only a few feet away, staring at him with a vague mixture of expectation and rising anger. Like he can't get any closer. Like he doesn't want to get any closer.

Okay, what the hell is going on here?

"You're lying."

Clark blinks, looking between the three. They're not even looking--like they don't expect to see anything if they looked through a perfectly normal floor, which means either Lex didn't plant bombs there--and Clark knows Lex, this is his thing, he's nothing if not efficient when he's out on destructive jaunts--or....

"You can't see for yourself?"

It's there--just a flicker, completely unreadable, and Clark sees Lex staring at the gun again, then up at Clark. Okay, what the hell--

"You can't see for yourself." Make that a statement. Clark looks at the gun on the floor, and yes, he has sucky eyesight, but it's not even dented.

"No sun." Lex says like it should be the most obvious thing in the world and Clark's just slow on the uptake, and the man's fingers are around Lex's throat like a vise, cutting off air and voice way too late.

No sun. No sunlight. No oh-so-useful-for-Kryptonians yellow-dwarf radiation. Oh fuck, it's midnight, this is the Arctic, they've just landed, and it's nowhere near morning. They've never seen the sun, never had time to absorb it. Not yet.

Pushing off the wall, Clark take a step toward the General, who actually backs up. Wow. It's kind of like being Superman again, but without the worry about the Kryptonite and a serious headache.

"You were bluffing." Oh and damn, he threw away his weapon. On a fucking guess. "But Kryptonite still hurts and you--what, expected to land and just start the conquest immediately?"

"Disable it."

Clark shakes his head and takes another step. Even like this, he could get to the gun in time. Just five steps. Big steps, but steps. Don't fall. Don't throw up. Make them think you're just as cool as everything they've heard.

"One more step and he's dead, Kal-El."

This is why hostage situations suck. They get in the way. They're useful for threats. They keep former aliens away from really necessary guns, and they also are going to be the reason everyone dies right now.

"If you leave now, you just might survive."

The General stares at him like he's lost his mind. "What?"

Clark holds his ground. "Run. I'll let you. Get in your ship and get the hell out of this system. If you're fast enough, you just might get away." If the doors open, Lois will shoot them. This could work.

"General--" The woman's cut off by a swift wave of the man's hand, and he stares at Clark as if he's gone crazy.

"You'd just let us go?"

How much time is left? If Bruce sees them get on that ship.... "Yes."

"We could come back."

Clark shrugs. "I'd be waiting."

There's a moment where he really thinks they won't do it--that, in fact, they're going to stand here and debate the merits of leaving or not right up until Bruce blows that ship.

"General?" She sounds panicky. Maybe enough to make a run for it independently? Please?

"Get the doors open."

Clark knows he has to get it the first time--his legs are shaking and this guy's going to notice that any second, and that will be that. Let Lois be there. Let this work. Let it not have been ten minutes. And God, let him get some water and a long nap when this is all over.

Clark hears the soft sounds of the doors opening, the woman sliding back from the computer, and--

--a low whistle, sharp, cutting through the air . Clark watches in utter relief as the woman hits the floor with a choked sound and thank God, Lois.

Clark catches the look of shock on the general's face and lunges for the gun.

It's--kind of disjointed after that. Clark knows he's okay, but he can't quite make his eyes focus, and someone's yelling, there's banging, and this has got to be the worst ambush in history except for the fact that he seems to be in one piece, though stretched on the floor and the gun is pressed against the tips of his fingers. Reaching awkwardly, he gets it into his hand, pulling himself up on one elbow to look around.

Fuck. He's got to--where--

"Clark?" Lois' hand is on his face, turning him to face her. "Clark, are you--"

"Not shot." At least, he doesn't think so. It takes everything to force the words out. "Where are they?"

Lois looks pale, dark hair tumbling around her face, eyes wide. "Running. Will Bruce get them?"

Clark nods. "Yeah. We--we have to get out of here. Where's--" Pushing himself up on both arms, Clark turns his head. The woman's body's stretched at an awkward angle by the overturned chair. No sign of the general. There--is no Lex, no roommate-resembling Kryptonian in sight. Anywhere. Oh damn. "They've got Lex."

"I couldn't get a clear shot," Lois says, putting an arm under his shoulder to help him up. "Guess they still want their hostage. Come on, Clark. We--"

"Have to get him. Has it been ten minutes?" Please God, no.

"Close. Close." Getting her feet under her, he watches her bite her lip and forces his legs to do something besides lay there. Reaching down, he grabs for the gun, balancing it in his hand. Vaguely, he remembers that he's never actually had to use one before today.

"Which way did they go?"

"Can you do it?"

Clark takes a tentative step forward, eyes fixed on the doors. "I don't have a choice."


They're never going to make it.

Clark knows that, knows Lois knows that, knows that they're doing the stupidest thing ever, but she's not dragging him toward the outer door, even when she could. Right now, she's stronger than he is.

"Are these stairs the only way to the roof?" Lois asks as they make another turn.

"Yeah." Stairs. The great, long, hellish path that he's not sure he can do right now. Looking down, Clark sees the dribble of blood that trickles upward like a path. "Are they--"

"I got the dark one," Lois says, and damned if she doesn't sound smug. "He's not moving very fast, I guarantee you that."

"It's been more than ten minutes," Clark whispers, setting his foot on the first step. Can be sick later. Just do it. "Lois--"

"He's waiting. Let's make sure that's not a mistake." Arm under his, she pushes forward, almost dragging him, and he can hear her catch her breath from the strain. Maybe it's male pride that makes him move, even with the cramping of his stomach, because this is just embarrassing. He could fly once, lift tractors, and possibly change the axis of the planet, but right now, he can't even move his own feet. "Clark. You can do this."

Yes, he can.

The stairs are a blur--Clark keeps his eyes fixed, trusting Lois to take what weight she can, avoiding the tiny drips and spills of blood that could catch their feet. One injured Kryptonian, one Kryptonian dragging an injured Lex. They can't go too fast.

"What if they did something to Bruce's computer?" Clark whispers, because really, he needs more incentive to panic.

"Then we have a problem. Move it, Smallville." Ten more steps, and Clark turns his full attention inward. "Just--a little more." Her breath is coming fast. "Where? Left or right?"

"Right." It's easier on level ground--comparatively, anyway--and Clark pulls away, grabbing the wall for balance, surprised to realize that he's still holding the gun. Point and shoot. Don't ask questions. Don't demand they let him go. Just point. And. Shoot. "Around that corner. Just--"

Lois sidesteps some blood, easily keeping almost ahead of him, and he notices that there's a slick of blood across the side of her parka. Can't worry about that now. Not yet. Just--

The slight slide brings him against the wall at the turn, and Clark looks up to see two figures upright, one spread across the floor only feet away. Clark sucks in a breath. The general's dead, or close to it. Two down.

The man holding Lex isn't.

"Don't move or I'll kill him."

It's really scary how much he resembles--Chris. Right. Chris, freshman roommate. Way beyond sanity, that guy.

"Let him go."

Lex looks--not so great. Broken ribs, maybe, and that arm around his waist can't be helping, and a hand twisted loosely around his neck. Using Lex like body armor. Clark sees blood at the corner of Lex's mouth, trickling in a thin line down his chin. It's going to stain his shirt.

It's-- Clark lifts the gun, trying to aim. His hands are shaking and his vision's bad, and right, he's never actually fired one of these before. He wonders if he looks even vaguely threatening "Let him go."

The man stares back at him, eyes wide. "You don't have any powers," he says, like it's a total shock, and Clark remembers suddenly that they think he's still Superman.

"Surprise."

Lex's eyes slit open briefly, and Clark thinks the lips are moving--too far away to read them, no idea what Lex is trying to say, no idea what to do. The man's backing up and he'll be out the door any second, Lex in tow like the ultimate security blanket.

He--he has to--

"Clark," Lois whispers, and her voice is shaking. "Clark. He--he says he'll heal."

Think of it as--laser vision. Just point, aim, and....fire.

Someone screams--Clark's not sure who, because his legs give out, but Lois is moving, scooping the gun from his hand, and Clark forces himself on his knees, unable to control the violent heaving of his stomach. Looking up through blurred eyes, he can see the faint brown blur of her, moving, doing--something.

Another shot, and Clark blinks, vision clearing, and watches Lois drop the gun beside the man's head and lean over, hand on Lex's throat.

"Clark," she says, and her voice is very calm, very cool. "You're on your own now. I'll get Lex. Get up."

Right. Because he just shot Lex Luthor, and Clark hears himself start to laugh. It's--strangely freeing. Just--grabbing the wall, Clark grimaces a little, but the choked sounds coming from his throat sound so much like relief it's almost scary.

"He's alive?" He already knows he is, but he wants to hear it.

Lois makes a sound a lot like a person being pushed to their limits. "He's alive and conscious and actually helping me, so get. Moving. Now. Bruce isn't going to wait forever."

Clark nods and turns, listening to them behind him. He's--going to get out. The plan worked. Sort of.

"You know," Lois huffs of air, and she's moving fast. Threat of imminent death does have an amazing effect on people's speed. Clark's noticed this before. "I just realized--"

"What?" Grabbing his stomach, Clark starts down the stairs, hoping to God he doesn't fall.

"I just got the exclusive on the biggest story ever." She sounds--cheerful.

"Oh, God, Lois--" Stopping at the base of the stairs, Clark turns, somehow finding the strength to reach out, catching Lex's other arm and sliding underneath, taking the weight with a grit of his teeth. Just a little more and he's going to lay down in Bruce's plane and never move again. "Where--"

"Right shoulder. Nice shot, by the way." He's flashed a bright, strained grin, then the dark eyes fix straight ahead. She's picking up her pace. "Clark? Start running."


Clark thinks that snow is the best stuff in the world. Mountainous piles of it, thick and soft and extraordinarily cushioning when you need something to break your fall.

"Clark. Clark." It's Lois, somewhere--above him? Nearby? Doesn't matter. He can feel Lex under one hand, possibly because he's clinging, and Lex is saying--some really, really nasty things. "Come on. You've got to get up."

"...fucking moronic, idiotic alien hybrid of a..."

His hearing's going in and out. Clark's okay with that. He's not sure he wants to hear where Lex is going with this little diatribe.

"Clark, it's--look, just a little farther...."

"I swear to God, Clark, if I didn't feel like shit I'd kill you for this."

Clark grins and tries to pry his eyes open. "You wish." Someone's behind him, sitting him up, and Clark tilts his head enough to look back. "Hey, Lois."

"Hey yourself." Tight line of her mouth and there's blood splashed across her chin, over the shoulder of her parka. Not hers. "You do know we're right outside the door, right? Maybe a little farther--"

"Where's Bruce?" The wind and dark make it hard to see.

"Hell if I know. Come on, Clark. Just a little farther. You know, maybe not quite at ground zero in case Bruce blows this up before getting us?"

Clark nods slowly, trying to put the words together. "Yeah. That's--is the comm working?"

The look on Lois' face is completely wonderful--shock and anger at herself, and probably a little pissed at him for remembering before she did. Reaching up, she touches her ear, trying to see if there's a signal. As she turns away, still bracing him up, Clark looks over at Lex.

He--doesn't look happy.

"Sorry I messed up your funeral," Clark says, and Lex winces, eyes opening brilliant and oh so pissed.

"I don't believe you did this."

Lex sounds so much like every other time Clark's destroyed his plans or his toys. Almost--surreally normal. Clark snickers and tightens numb fingers. Hypothermia could be an issue real soon now.

"Habit," Clark says, trying to make his eyes stay open. "I--"

"I had it under control." The words are forced out between clenched teeth. "You shot me."

"You said you'd heal!" The strangest urge to giggle wells up, and Clark tamps it down. God, he could just sleep here, right in the soft snow. It'd be wonderful. "Oh damn, Lex, could have been so much easier if you--"

"Bruce is coming. Clark?"

"--if you just had let me help." Clark closes his eyes again, vaguely aware of the hands on his face, even more aware of Lex pulling away, and the low, pissed sound of someone who's been shot and not enjoying it at all. Like Lex has room to complain. He's alive. Which really, wasn't that the point?

"Shit, Clark, come on. You made it this far. Sit up. Come on. I can't carry you. I don't want to carry you. You weigh a ton. What the hell have you been eating, rocks?"

He's--not giggling. It's just wrong. Letting go of Lex, Clark tries to pull his head together. "I'm--just tired. Sick. I want to be in bed."

"You should be in bed." That's Lex again. Closer. "I can't believe you let him pull this." Possibly directed at Lois. Or at God. Lex is weird like that.

"Me? Oh right, this great plan of yours was so clever--" Lois then.

"It would have fucking worked if you two hadn't--"

"--you know, what with being a hostage and almost getting yourself killed? Please."

"I had it under control!"

"Timer or personal?" They both shut up instantly, and Clark slits his eyes open. Lex is sitting up on his good arm, and Clark sees an efficient, rough bandage around his shoulder. Nice.

"What?"

"Was it on a timer or were you doing it yourself?" Lex hesitates, and Clark grins. Lex is all about control. "You were pulling the switch yourself."

Lex looks at him like he's completely lost his mind. Maybe he has. He's tired and his head hurts and the snow feels good, and if Lex would just stop talking him, he'd be so happy to fall asleep right here. There's a slow line of darkness falling over his vision, blocking his view of the stars--hypothermia or just his bad eyesight? Oh, wait.

"Bruce!" Lois pulls herself up from behind him. "Cassius! Get the hell down here! They're both--"

"Why does it matter?" Lex asks, low and careful, like he's navigating quicksand with words alone. Clark shakes his head, weak arms collapsing, dropping him back in the snow. He should be cold. Very, very cold. It's snow, this is the Arctic, and the uniform has never been what he would call thermal exactly. A sharp slap brings his eyes open, and Lex sounds like he's talking through his teeth. "Oh hell no, Kent, stay conscious. No way in hell you're getting out of this that easily."

"...over here. Idiots. Looks like hypothermia...."

Strong hands are under his arms, lifting him effortlessly, and Clark shakes his head a little, trying to get away. "I'm--just tired."

"Yes, and Lex is just muttering about a scratch," Bruce mutters too close to his ear. "Come on, Superman. After all this, you--"

"One kilometer," Clark hears Lex say. "Only one of them is dead."

Bruce hesitates, then lifts Clark entirely from the ground, like he doesn't weigh anything at all. God, how embarrassing. Totally, totally embarrassing. "You're sure?"

"I designed and built them, what the fuck do you think? One kilometer, I'll blow it, but fucking move already. Jesus, you're supposed to be superheroes?"

Clark's vaguely aware of a blast of almost painful heat, being lowered onto something warm and soft. There's yelling all around him.

"...have that kind of range?"

"Five with this remote. Emergency reasons. Come on."

The low thrum of the engine's comforting, but the people who keep moving him are not, jerking him from the warmth and into--oh God, this hurts. Stomach and head and every limb, and how, how, how, did he manage to walk around like this? Lifting a hand, Clark hisses, aware he's being wrapped up in something thick and heavy, lifted up so a bottle is held to his mouth.

"Warm fluids will help." Lois, softer than he's ever heard her. "Lex just promised me an exclusive interview if I leave him alone until we get back, so you got me to yourself, Smallville. Come on. Drink up."

He can keep his mouth closed and turn his head like a three year old who doesn't want to take his medicine, but fighting her off is impossible, and she's that kind of relentless like tides and Lex's temper tantrums. With a sigh, Clark opens his mouth, surprised at the warmth, letting it trickle inside and heating something inside that almost hurts.

"How--" His voice sounds funny. Strange and thick. Trying to wet his lips with his tongue, he comes away with the sharp taste of blood. "Lex--"

"Whining up front and getting ready to set off the explosives. You with me here?"

Clark nods, not even trying to open his eyes. "Cassius, is he--"

An almost painfully hot hand rests on his forehead, and Cassius makes a low sound like a chuckle. Or something. "He'll be fine, Ms Lane. Just catching up with him. A week in bed and he'll be fine."

Just a week? Clark wants a month at least.

"...cot over here."

"No." That sounded more like himself. With a huge effort, Clark pries his eyes open, just in time for a burn of brilliance, almost filling his sight. Faintly green, he thinks, hearing Lois mutter, one elegant hand coming up to cover her eyes, but Clark doesn't look away. "No."

The last of his homeworld goes up in a flash so bright that Clark thinks it can be seen from space, and he may see it for the rest of his life every time he closes his eyes.. It's still superimposed over everything after the slow fade, even the dark figure that appears from the cockpit, taking four steps toward him before hitting the deck with both knees. Clark hears Cassius curse, moving by Clark too fast to follow, and a low response that's probably offensive, because Lex is always in a bad mood after he's injured.

"...okay?"

"Besides being poisoned?" Cassius sounds--amused. Relieved. A little hysterical. Clark knows the feeling. "He'll be fine. Just needs rest and fluids."

"You disobeyed orders."

Like at this late date, that actually means anything. Clark can't help laughing and regrets it when two very blue eyes fasten on him, and right, it's Superman and Lex Luthor the continuing adventures all over again, except it's not. Keeping his grin, Clark forces his eyes to focus, and Lex pushes himself off the floor, taking five more steps before dropping to a painful-looking crouch beside him. Clark can see fresh blood seeping through the bandages, and Lex keeps one hand low on his ribs, like they're injured.

Lex looks like there's a lot of things he could say here but can't quite find the right one. He's looked at Superman like that a lot. Explains the long periods of time they'd spent yelling profanity at each other over the years.

"Next time," Clark murmurs, and Lex opens his mouth, then shuts it tight. "Next time, Lex--"

"Next time--"

"You're going to be the sick one." Sucking in a breath, Clark makes the effort, reaching out and touching Lex's knee. Living flesh under his hand, separated by a thin barrier of wool. It's--he's alive. It worked. Pretty much by accident, but it worked. Which, come to think of it, is how it usually happens. Grinning, Clark shuts his eyes.

"Fuck you."

"Why didn't--" Clark sucks in a breath. "You--were in there. With us. You could have--could have blown it at any time. Why didn't you?"

"That would have been utterly pointless." Lex's voice is low and rough and utterly exasperated, like Clark should know or something.

"Why?" Lexian psychology. A lifetime of study won't ever make this make any sense. "They--they almost got away."

"Clark." The hand on his face is warm, hard palm, demanding his focus, his attention, and Clark opens his eyes again, just enough to see Lex watching him. There's a hesitation, brief but strangely endless, and Clark almost thinks he knows what Lex is going to say. But he doesn't, because Lex isn't predictable like that. "Clark. Every face I saw was yours." A gentle, almost tender stroke, then Lex pulls away. "Get some rest. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and kill Benny."


The first thing Clark sees when he opens his eyes is Cassius, holding a thermometer.

"There." Cassius is staring at the read-out, a little frown of concentration on his face. Clark blinks, trying to get oriented, but all that's registering is warm and soft and no headache, all big plus signs as far as Clark's concerned. "Ah, you're awake."

"Yeah." Lifting a heavy but entirely unpainful hand, Clark touches his forehead. "I--when did we get back?"

"Last night." Cassius sounds pleased. "You really fought the sedative, too."

The water Lois gave him. What is with these people and their damn spiking of his beverages? Almost growling, Clark tries to sit up and fails. Too tired. But no nausea, and that's so good he actually sighs. "Don't try to move too much yet. It'll be a little while before you get your strength back. Just relax."

Clark closes his eyes briefly, opening them again. "Penthouse?" Of course. "How's Lex? And Lois--"

"Lex is fine. I checked his shoulder. Clean shot. The Kryptonite might complicate his healing a little, it's already closing up nicely. Lois is fine--she's sleeping it off down the hall. Something about getting an interview and she's not leaving until Lex talks."

Poor Lex. Clark grins, letting Cassius do whatever arcane practices doctors do on sick people, but he gives the glass of water Cassius holds up a suspicious look. "Don't drug me."

"Just electrolyte replacement, I promise." Clark's not sure he believes him, but his mouth's dry and gummy. Taking the glass carefully, Clark takes a small drink. He wouldn't recognize any taste at this point, but he at least has to give the impression he can. "Doris will bring you something to eat in a minute. Just fluids for now. Any dizziness, nausea, unexplained weakness--"

Clark fixes his eyes on Cassius. "How about poisoned and almost shot, nearly frozen to death, and--" Cassius grins, smile fading a little as he rubs his forehead. "Are you okay?" Right, unshielded penthouse. Not good. "You--"

"One of the guest suites is lined in lead." Oh. "I'll be fine." With a pat of Clark's hand, the doctor stands up.

"Where's Lex?"

The hesitation's so brief that Clark thinks he might have imagined it. "Trying to drink the destruction of his plan away." The smile that follows is mischievous. "A post-Superman-fucks-up-my-life ritual of sorts."

That sounds less than really encouraging. Clark watches Cassius walk out, humming something vaguely tuneless under his breath, then pushes the blankets aside. They feel too heavy and his body's not at all sure that this plan's a good idea, but Clark ignores it in favor of getting his feet to the floor, scrunching his toes in the soft weave of the rug before bracing both hands on the mattress.

Okay. He walked while sick. He fought while sick. He saved the planet while sick, and from Kryptonians at that. He can go find Lex. And back then, he'd had a headache and a time crunch involved.

Grabbing for support on the nightstand, Clark tries an experimental step and watches in surprise as his knees give out, dropping him on the floor like a sack of potatoes. It's a comfortable rug. But he still doesn't want to be on it.

Hmm. Could be that world-saving and time limits had been more of an incentive than he'd thought.

"Oh Jesus, what the hell are you doing? Get back in that bed immediately!"

Clark looks up to see Lex, brandy glass in hand, looking at him with utter annoyance.

"Hey." Bed, behind him. Very far away. And the rug's comfortable. "How are you feeling?"

Even from here, Clark can see the slight bulk of the bandage beneath Lex's sweater, the slight stiffness when he puts down his glass, crossing the room like he's planning a conquest of it when he has time.

"Fine. Get. Back. In. Bed." A hard hand is on his arm, pulling him up with annoying effortlessness, depositing him on the mattress, blankets tossed over him like ropes to tie him down. The glare's almost intimidating. Almost. "Don't you think you've wandered around enough? You're ill."

"You poisoned me."

"You shot me."

Clark really doesn't think that equals out, but God, this is comfortable. Warm and soft and wonderful, and he's never leaving bed again. Hadn't Lex mentioned something about chains? That would be--oh, so nice.

"Where's Bruce?"

"In his penthouse, doubtless explaining to the Justice League why exactly they weren't informed of the latest apocalypse." Nudging Clark over with one hip, Lex sits down on the edge of the bed, reaching so one wrist is pressed to Clark's forehead. "Fever's down."

"I can't believe you poisoned me."

"You're still upset about that?" Lex sounds amused now. Oh, fuck you, Lex. "It wasn't serious--"

"You have no idea what it's like to negotiate when you think you may start throwing up on your captor any minute." He's got to talk to Cassius about that virus. Soon.

Lex sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose, eyes closing. Reaching out, Clark just manages to brush his fingers against Lex's elbow. "What did they do to you?"

"Nothing serious. A few ribs, a crack in my L3 vertebra." Lex shrugs off life-threatening injuries with a little sigh, shaking his head. "Get some rest." An impersonal pat of his hand, expertly shifting it to Clark's thigh, before Lex levers himself to his feet. "I--"

"Stay." It comes out before Clark can really think about it, and he wishes it back almost instantly. Something's changed. Something that's making Clark's palms itch and his head start to hurt. "Lex--"

Obviously, Lex is thinking about something, though God alone knows what it is. Scooting over, Clark gives him a hopeful look. It's gotten him interviews with supermodels and huge discounts from salesgirls over the years. "You need rest, Lex."

"Rest." The dubious edge makes Clark grind his teeth. He's really going to need to see a dentist soon.

"Severe injury, exposure to cold, mental trauma--"

Clark's sure he didn't imagine the twitch at the corner of Lex's mouth. "Trauma."

Clark pulls back the blanket. "Okay, my trauma." Pausing, Clark searches unreadable eyes. "I'm cold."

Lex's hesitation lasts just about as long as it takes to glance back at the brandy glass on the dresser, then he kicks off his shoes.

Lex. Who's warm and close and Clark's careful of his shoulder when he touches him, feeling the instant tension before warm relaxation.

"You're sulking, aren't you?" Clark murmurs, draping one arm across Lex's chest. Lex makes an unclassifiable sound, like maybe he's choking, and Clark grins and digs his fingers in at the half-hearted attempt to pull away. "I'm sorry Superman spoiled your plans for world salvation."

"You know, I thought we wouldn't have this problem again," Lex answers in resignation. "I burned the suit, by the way."

Clark frowns. "It doesn't burn."

When Lex turns his head, the grin Clark gets is very, very sharp. "You'd be very surprised what I can do with enough incentive." The barest press of fingers against his temples, and Clark willingly lets himself be led closer, forehead pressed to warm wool. "Go to sleep."

"The Fortress--" He really should have thought of that earlier. Lex chuckles softly, fingers threading soothingly through his hair.

"Dust and snow. My team's out there already, cleaning up the site. Sleep."

"Stay." He's tired and sick and Lex feels good. Clark digs his fingers into the sweater, pulling it and the shirt underneath up to slide his fingers against warm skin. Holding on.

Lex sighs softly, warm breath ruffling Clark's hair. "Trust me, Clark. I'm not going anywhere."


Clark wakes up alone in almost perfect darkness.

Sitting up, one hand goes out, finding cold blankets in the space beside him, as if Lex had never been there at all. There's a completely pleasant lethargy that seems vaguely natural and not drug induced, so Clark tentatively rolls on his back, blinking to adjust his vision.

He's--thirsty.

Pushing back the blankets, Clark swings a foot onto the floor and checks strength. Better. There's an empty glass on the nightstand, and Clark gingerly picks it up, surveying the shadows of the room with a little frown. Bathroom, to the right. Where there's water.

It's a really long walk. Is he that thirsty?

"If you need something, you call the kitchen." Clark looks up, trying to find the source of the voice, but his vision's still bad, and he's really going to have to invest in contacts or laser eye surgery soon. "You should know that by now."

"Lex?" He's a vague blob of grey and white, appearing almost magically and taking the glass from Clark's nerveless fingers. Lex--does stuff like that. Very annoying. If Clark were the kind that got jitters being alone in a dark, silent room, it just might scare him. Which of course, he's not. "What time is it?"

"Nine," Lex says, and Clark decides he means in the pm. "Lay back down. I'll be right back."

Mouth dry, Clark scoots back under the covers, cold feet sliding into the warm space they'd left behind. It's--awkward. There are so many things he wants to ask and so little he can figure out how to actually say. Clark wonders if Lois got her interview yet. Burying his hands between his knees, Clark looks around the room, beginning to make out the vague outline of shapes. Chair, over there. Bureau, by the door. The darker shapes of paintings on the light walls, and the faintest trace of moonlight emanating from beneath the curtains, nothing more than a faint white glow.

He's--worried. It's not a comfortable feeling.

"Here." Like that, a glass appears in front of him, and he doesn't jump only because the dark doesn't get him jitters and Lex moving as quiet as a cat isn't creepy at all. Taking the glass, Clark takes a tentative drink, but it tastes just like water. Lex must guess why he hesitates. "Not a sedative, Clark. Being tired is just your body recovering. It's a human thing." There's an edge of amused tolerance before the bed shifts and Lex sits down, close enough to touch. A hand brushes his forehead, more caressing than checking his temperature, and Clark tries not to lean into it. "You'll be fine in a few days."

"That's good." Taking another drink, Clark holds the water in his mouth, making conversation unnecessary for the moment. He has to swallow eventually, though. Dammit. "How are you?"

Clark can't really see Lex shrug, but that doesn't mean he doesn't. "Cassius changed the bandages before he left. Lois didn't want to disturb you, so she said she'll be by in the morning to check on you before work. She said to tell you she hopes you'll be somewhat conscious."

Work. Oh damn. "I need to call--" Right. At nine at night. Clark can't prove Perry has a life outside the office, but if there is one, he's pretty sure he doesn't want to interrupt it.

Lex chuckles softly. "Clark, with what she just turned in to Perry, you'll get all the sick leave you want. Drink all of it. You need to hydrate."

There's really nothing else to do. Clark finishes off the glass slowly, almost grateful that he doesn't have to talk. Setting the glass aside, Clark gropes for conversation as the silence stretches. "Um. She got the interview?"

Clark thinks he sees Lex smile. "It was that or live with her wandering around looking determined. She was annoying Doris. I gave her the interview. It only cost me two bottles of brandy and some pride." Another pause. "Are you hungry?"

"Not really."

"Too bad. You need to eat." Clark listens to the sounds of Lex picking up the phone, entering some combination of numbers that leads to the staff. Listening to Lex giving orders about soup, Clark pulls his knees up, wrapping lethargic arms around the blankets covering them. When he hears the phone go down, he listens to Lex breathe and words seem to just pop out.

"There's no way you can lose the Senate race now." Okay, what does that have to do with anything?

If he could see Lex, he's almost sure Lex's eyebrows would be raised in amused surprise. Lex looks at him like that a lot. "I told you that I wouldn't. They could put up Lincoln and Washington against me and I'd win."

Of course. If there's one thing Lex really doesn't lack, it's confidence.

"How are Mercy and Hope?"

"Pissed." There's a wealth of things underneath that statement. "Recovering. Back on duty."

"Already?" Clark still hasn't been that inspired to really try such intensive activity as moving around all that much.

The sigh's almost funny. "Apparently, being their employer only gives me so much leeway in deciding their work schedule." Another soft sound, like Lex is thinking. "Clark. If you have something to say, it would be a lot easier to say it and not make me guess."

Oh. Right. Even in the dark, apparently, he's as readable as a chalk board. Picking at the covers, Clark tries to think about how to ask.

"You thought you were going to die."

"I estimated my chances of survival being extremely low, yes."

It'd be a lot easier if Lex wouldn't translate English into Lexese once in awhile. Gritting his teeth, Clark rubs his jaw where the muscles tighten painfully. That's really getting to be a bad habit.

"I just--" There's something to be said for sedatives. If he was blissfully unconscious, he wouldn't be having this awkward conversation. "Everything you've done has been under the impression that you won't live to see the consequences."

"I always anticipate consequences."

Okay, damn. Shifting his balance, Clark stretches out his legs. "And you're deliberately misunderstanding what I'm asking. You used to be better at that. What are you going to do now, Lex?"

Lex's silence is thoughtful. "Get ready for the Senate race. Find someone sufficiently intelligent and sufficiently obedient to succeed me at LexCorp in seven years. Get permission to study that space ship that's still orbiting the planet. Sift through the remains of the Fortress before the government starts looking around and finds something interesting before I do. Restock on Kryptonite if possible, or find a way to synthesize if I can't locate any more pieces of significant size."

Clark blinks. "What?"

"They came. There could be more. And I'd like to be ready."

Clark's mind shies away from the implications, even though he knows Lex is right. Filing it away for later brooding, Clark pulls his feet in under more flaps of blanket. His toes are cold.

"Maybe involving a less suicidal plan?"

This time, Clark thinks he sees the pale shape of Lex's face grin. "Maybe."

Which answers--a lot of questions and none at all. Time to be direct. "How much of the last two weeks has been you and how much has been your imminent demise?"

"All of both." Clark feels himself pull back, the rush of frustration dizzying. God, he hates being sick. He's feeling everything too sharply. "Clark, nothing's changed."

"Everything's changed, Lex. You thought you were going to die. You were--" Doesn't this just put so much in perspective? "You were--living like you wanted to make up for what you couldn't do. Before."

Lex is quiet. "You don't trust me."

"And this is new?" He knows he sounds angry, because--he is. Angry and tired and Lex is being Lex, which isn't usually this level of annoying, because Clark's gotten pretty good at translating Lexese into human terms, but he's just not up for that now. "Nothing mattered before. You thought you could do anything you wanted because you--"

"I can do anything I want." There's an edge to Lex's voice that Clark hasn't heard in a long time. "I've been able to do anything I want. It's--" Lex stops short, then the bed shifts again, Lex's restlessness taking over. "It's difficult to explain."

"Try me."

"It's not that easy. It's not a light switch, Clark. I--don't know. I'm still working things out."

"I need something better than that."

"I--" And Lex stands up, like he might walk out, perfectly Lex, but instead he flips the light on with an impatient hand, flooding the space with soft yellow light. Clark blinks away the glare, for a second thinking he sees edges of brilliant green in a cold arctic night, but the illusion fades as Lex sits back down. "I was expecting to have this conversation later." Years later, his attitude seems to suggest.

"I was expecting a lot of things before I woke up to find out you were playing suicidal superhero," Clark says sharply, blinking away the last of the glare. Lex looks--tired. Long sleeve t-shirt and sweat pants, very not-Lex. Combat gear, Clark's always thought. For when Lex needs to fight himself more than anyone else. "None of them included wondering who I'm with. I thought I knew and now I don't."

That gets Lex's full attention. Blue eyes as clear as a winter lake and just about as welcoming fix on him. "Let me get this straight. I do the right thing and you suspect my motives? Clark, come the fuck on."

Clark hadn't thought this would be easy, but Lex is making it even harder. "You thought you didn't have a future. Everything you've done--"

"What I've always wanted to do." The interruption's sharp and deliberate.

"You're telling me that if you hadn't thought you were under threat of execution, you would have done any of this?" Me, he doesn't say, but Lex gets the implication. The way the blue eyes darken, flicking away then coming back, like Lex does when he's getting ready to lie.

"No, I wouldn't have." Truth, then. It hits--harder than Clark had thought. Like being sick that first night, with a wave of nausea, but beneath it, the hurt. Anger. The beginnings of a pounding headache start in Clark's temples, wiping out everything except what shouldn't have been surprise, except it is. Maybe he hadn't wanted this conversation yet, not before he could walk out. "Stop. Hear me out first, okay?"

Clark takes a breath, nodding, not yet ready to trust his voice. Lex is on his feet, stressors getting the better of him, walking out the excess energy with graceful motions that almost hide the uncertainty.

"You lied to me," Clark says slowly, and Lex turns on a heel. Searching his face for something, though God knows what.

"I did lie. But sex isn't the only time someone's completely honest, Clark."

Lex lets that settle just enough to penetrate, before he's moving again. Lex hates to explain, hates to have to give reasoning, like it's enough that he understands what he's doing and everyone should already know.

Taking a careful breath, Clark pushes everything from his mind but now. "Can you tell me what changed?" He doesn't mention sheep and Tibet, but only because Lex might ask for an explanation.

Lex hesitates, eyes fixing on the curtained window like he's seeing something Clark doesn't. The prosthetic hand picks uncharacteristically at the edge of his shirt, and Clark wonders what that means. "Not--not yet." It's so short it doesn't even qualify as a pause. "When I can, you'll be the first person to know."

Fair enough. "Okay. What now?"

Lex stops short, eyebrows raised inquiringly. "I'm running for the Senate. I'm going to get the government out of my labs as quickly as possible before they find out something they shouldn't. You're never, ever doing anything as stupid as running after aliens while sick again. And at some point, I'm going to demolish your building, because it's a death trap."

"I'm not moving in here."

Lex smiles. This is one of those battles he's sure he'll win, apparently. "We'll negotiate."

Staring down at the comforter, Clark tries to think. Put things in perspective. "I--"

Almost immediately, Lex is sitting beside him, and Clark looks up. That never changes, never has changed-- the focus, the intensity, like when Lex looks at him, he never sees anyone else.

"Nothing changes," Lex says carefully, and he's measuring out the words, because direct isn't Lex's style, but he's trying very hard. "I never lied about the important things."

Clark can't help the choked laugh, because alien invasions aren't important and burgeoning martyr-complexes aren't important in the grand Lexian priority list, but--this is. Taking a breath, Clark lets it out, and Lex's fingers brush his on the comforter. Turning his hand over, Clark laces their fingers together and smiles.

"Okay." Glancing down at the elegant fingers, Clark thinks. "So how did it feel to be a superhero, Lex?"

When he looks up, he's surprised by the thoughtful look on Lex's face, like this isn't something he's considered before. Anticipating all consequences Clark's very tired ass. Considering what Lois is going to have in that article, Clark wonders how Lex will deal with public adulation.

The fingers tighten on Clark's, and Lex looks at him, curious and wondering, surprised and distrustful. He's never liked not being unsure of anything. "Addictive."

Laughing, Clark pulls sharply and Lex settles down beside him, kicking the blankets back impatiently, a brief blast of too-cool air, before resettling them around them. Clark wonders what Doris will say when she wanders in with dinner, then grins into smooth cotton.

Pushing himself up on one elbow, Clark regards the man beside him--tired and wired on too much coffee and probably a lot of alcohol, warm and gentle when his fingers trail over Clark's cheek.

"You're going to be president, you know," Clark says, and Lex is right. He could get the entire gamut of presidents Washington down and he'd still win. Lex nods sleepily, eyes falling closed, and Clark wonders when he last slept.

"I know." A low murmur before Lex pulls him down. "Hopefully---" Lex's voice is cut off on a smothered yawn. "Hopefully, you'll like the White House better than here. It would be hell to commute to your apartment every day, you know."

"I'll think about it." There's a great place on seventh. Very close to the Planet. Lex would probably buy the building.

"You do that."

Clark waits for Doris, curled against a sleeping Lex Luthor, pleasantly lethargic, and for the first time in longer than he's had a memory, perfectly content.

the end.



If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to jenn

Also, why not join Level Three, the Smallville all-fic list?



Back

Level Three Records Room