Actions

Work Header

Spooky Stuff

Work Text:

~*~*~*~*~*~




~*~*~*~*~*~

Lightning struck. A handful of seconds later, thunder rolled overhead. The lights in the Talon flickered.

"Ugh, remind me, why did I say yes to helping clean up, again?" Pete complained across the table from Clark, dumping another several used plastic cups into a trashcan. Chloe and Lana glanced over from where they were wiping down tables and chatting and rolled their eyes at him.

Clark glanced outside. It was getting darker, and not just because of the lateness of the hour. He smiled shyly to himself at the look of the sky.

"It was a dark and stormy night..."

"Shut up, Clark," everyone chimed together, annoyed.

Clark absently bit his lip, hunched his shoulders reflexively, and stifled a sigh. He'd just been trying to lighten the mood, and he hadn't even said it that loudly. He picked up and dropped a paper plate into the trashcan he was dangling from his other hand.

Lightning flashed and thunder crashed immediately thereafter. Everyone with a still-functioning startle reflex jumped. After the afterimage of the lightning strike had finally faded from everyone's vision, Clark asked, "Did that look like it hit near the hydroelectric plant at the dam to anyone else?"

The power abruptly went out. Everyone looked up, then turned to glare at Clark.

"What?" he muttered.

And then the sky opened up.

~*~*~*~*~*~


~*~*~*~*~*~

An hour later and the storm still didn't look like it was letting up anytime soon.

Pete and Chloe were looking bored out of their minds, even with the pack of cards they had spread out in front of them on the floor. They both looked and sounded pretty tired.

Clark couldn't fathom why, though, as Pete and Chloe had complained about moving around in the dark and ended up taking on the role of "flashlight holders" for Clark and Lana. Lana had mostly finished just wiping down the tables and chairs. That arrangement had ended up leaving Clark doing most of the cleaning up himself, at normal speed -- clearing tables of trash, getting the washable dishes in bins and back to the kitchen, putting up chairs once Lana had finished with the tables.

Now he was finishing up by sweeping the floor with a push mop. The least his friends could do would be to get out of the way, he thought with a sigh, working around them. Lana at least held the flashlight for him as he continued, chattering away. It was nice background noise, and not nearly as grating as Chloe's usual dialog; he had no complaints, really. Doing the brunt of the cleanup work wasn't a big chore, not for him, and he hadn't wanted Lana to be stuck with it all herself. Considering that he'd not been able to help out earlier, being busy trying to find and then help Lex, he felt it was the least he could do.

Finally, he straightened with a sigh. Sweeping done -- well, except for where Chloe and Pete were sprawled, but he figured that was good enough.

"Thanks again, Clark. You're a lifesaver," Lana flashed him a smile as she passed him the flashlight.

"No problem," Clark replied, feeling a fluttering warmth in his chest. "This goes where?" he asked, taking the flashlight and indicating the broom.

"Back in the corner of the kitchen; all the cleaning supplies are there."

"Is there anything else?"

"Not really, just hanging out until the storm lets up, I guess," she shrugged. She walked over to where Chloe and Pete were and sat down -- to talk or to join in their game, Clark wasn't sure which.

Clark took his flashlight and broom and headed back into the kitchen. He hadn't really needed the light, but, well, he had to keep up appearances, didn't he? He saw where the broom needed to go and returned it. When he turned, his flashlight beam played over the sight of mounds of dirty dishes. He absently dropped the beam as he stepped forward and grimaced at the huge mess, rubbing his forehead and frowning.

"What about the dishes?" Clark muttered to himself. It wouldn't be a good idea to leave it 'til morning -- opening day was probably going to be hectic enough as it was as Lana tried to settle everyone and everything into a routine. And if someone finished it off for her, it’d be a nice surprise for her come tomorrow morning, he realized with a smile.

Looking around, Clark figured that, since he was here, he might as well do it himself. The automatic dishwasher ran on electricity, he saw, but the water to the sink itself should be fine so long as the hot water heater ran on gas, he assumed. He set the flashlight off to the side -- carefully illuminating the sink area, so that anyone who might come in would think nothing out of the ordinary -- and started to roll up his sleeves, but, briefly scanning the counter top, he didn't see any liquid dish soap. No towels for drying, either. He frowned and stopped. Glancing around and not seeing it in plain sight, he sighed and focused his vision to X-ray with only a small wince of pain at the throbbing ache that started behind his eyes. The headaches he still got from looking through things weren’t nearly as bad as they used to be, but he really needed to keep practicing until they went away completely.

He found the towels over by what looked like the wait-staff staging area inside some drawers, but he still couldn't find the soap. Extending his vision and scanning through the walls, he noticed what looked like the right supplies in a back-office piled under a window, second door from the kitchen. He frowned and scratched the back of his head. He couldn't just go there and get it -- his friends would wonder how he knew where to look. Instead, he'd have to go and ask Lana where it was, which would prompt questions from her on why he wanted it, along with general snarkiness from Chloe and Pete for 'brown nosing' an already-taken girl.

Possible goodwill with Lana aside, this was starting to look like more trouble than it was worth. He sighed and swung his eyes back to the sink as he started to focus back to normal vision, then brought his head up with a jerk and refocused as he saw something he hadn't meant to, something he hadn't expected at all, in the first room by the kitchen, the main storage area.

There was a body lying prone on the floor of the storeroom. It wasn't moving.

He recognized the skeleton.

It was Lex.

With a strangled cry, he was in superspeed and halfway to the kitchen door before he forced himself to come to a screeching halt. He couldn't just go running out there and straight to Lex for the same reason he couldn't just go and get the soap -- how would he explain it? He didn't have a reason to go in there, certainly not at a breakneck run, or... faster. He fisted both hands at the sides of his head and barely resisted the urge to pull his hair out in clumps.

Oh, no, wait, maybe not at a run, but -- the soap! Lana had told him where the storeroom was before, he could claim he was looking for it when he-- He dropped his hands and relief washed over him as he hurriedly pushed his way out into the main area of the Talon, made a beeline for the storeroom door, turned the knob, and was in.

Glancing behind him as he closed the door, he realized that none of his friends had even glanced up. He felt vaguely frustrated, though he wasn't sure why. Shouldn't he have been relieved at being basically ignored?

No time for that now. Clark sped around and past corners and obstacles slightly faster than humanly possible, then knelt down next to Lex and put a hand to his shoulder.

Lex started wildly.

"Woah!" Clark exclaimed, dropping back off his heels to avoid flailing limbs. He felt his worry drop from his shoulders like a physical weight -- Lex was ok! What happened in Club Zero was over. Lex was ok.

"What--! Who--?" Lex's eyes rolled around, searching.

"Lex?" Clark asked tentatively, shifting into a more stable kneeling position next to him.

Lex's eyes immediately swiveled up to him. "...Clark?" Lex asked back uncertainly, groping forward carefully and touching Clark’s chest, then shoulder, and pulling himself upright and forward towards Clark. Clark wrapped an arm around his friend in a similar comforting gesture. Lex's heartbeat calmed quickly once he had a hold of him, Clark noticed. "What--" He stopped and seemed to refocus, squinted upwards, then asked, "Why are the lights off?"

And then Clark realized his fatal mistake. Darnit, all that worrying about excuses and not getting caught, and he'd gone and left his stupid flashlight back in the kitchen!

"...and how did you find me back here?"

Crap.

"Oh, I--" Clark couldn't think of anything.

"...Clark?" And Lex was sounding more suspicious by the second.

Double-crap. "Uh." Not the most intelligent answer. He wasn't sure where to begin. He hadn't ever really figured out how much illumination most people -- normal people -- humans -- needed to see, or what things looked like to them when it was 'too dark to see'. Once he'd realized there even was a difference, he'd been a little too embarrassed to ask his parents; he still was.

"Was that your prank?" Lex ended, sounding grim and not at all pleased with him.

Wait, what? "Prank?"

"The... ghostly apparition..." Lex waved a hand vaguely off to the side. Clark wondered why, given that neither of them was supposed to be able to see anything. "I assume my startlement backwards into poorly-stacked supplies, loss of balance, and... knocking myself out," he sounded grim and almost angry with himself and his lack of control as he felt the back of his head and winced, "was not meant to be part of the joke?"

Clark didn't know how to respond to that, other than to lightly touch a hand to the back of Lex's head, trying to tell if there was a lump or anything else potentially wrong that he should be worried about. There was nothing that stood out from a cursory inspection.

Apparently that was ok, because Lex just kept rambling on. "It was very well-timed, flicking the lights off right after that crash of thunder, and then having her pop up like that, I have to give you credit. I assume it was some friend of yours dressed up in a ghastly amount of white makeup?" Lex paused for a moment, then continued at the lack of response. "That faint eerie glow was a nice touch. Where did you put the blacklights?" he said mildly, obviously trying to elicit a confession by now avoiding sounding too judgmental or harsh.

"...Lex, I have no idea what you're talking about, I swear." And Clark realized he wasn’t really pleased with the adult-talking-down-to-a-child maneuver. He’d figured that one out back when he was five. Besides, Lex usually treated him like an adult. Equal. Whatever. Since Lex wasn’t all that grown-up himself, despite his responsibilities at the plant, his tone of voice stung even worse.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one feeling less-than-happy. Clark decided that there was far more light in here than Lex was fessing up to, because he could swear Lex was glaring right at him.

Except for the fact that there weren't any windows in here or, as he glanced around, any localized light sources at all besides the currently-unpowered overhead lights -- just ambient light. Ok, so maybe he was only in some small trouble over the whole seeing-in-the-dark thing...

"You didn't try to have one of your friends scare me half to death for fun?"

Clark dropped his arm and flinched away from Lex at the vitriol. Well, there went nonjudgmental, but at least he wasn’t being talked down to anymore. Clark blew out a shaky breath. "Lex, why would I do that? We've spent most of the last week trying to deal with all those scary, malicious pranks, and worse, and then that dead-guy-who-isn't-really-dead Club Zero stuff -- I mean, you fell-- you almost got shot after… after being hung from… pulled down off the ceiling--"

He swallowed heavily and had to take a deep breath before continuing. "And all that happened right before we got here, even though you've been acting like everything was normal, was fine--" He ran a hand through his hair. "Even if I had? Set something up like that? I would've told everybody to forget it, or whatever." He stopped, drew a breath, and shook his head once. "It's... that's not even funny. People getting attacked isn't funny. That… that happens too much in this town as it is."

Clark probably should've been angry at Lex's accusation, but now he just felt like dirty things were squirming around in his midsection, as if he'd swallowed a piece of meteor rock. Amanda had been someone Lex had loved; Clark could tell that from the way he had talked about her on the drive back home from Metropolis. And she had killed herself from the guilt of pulling the trigger. But Lex thought he'd use that in some kind of sick prank? Neither of them had even known about Amanda's suicide until that afternoon. In point of fact, Clark wouldn't have known if Lex hadn't told him, and setting something like that up last minute -- a ghostly woman attacking Lex, maybe for revenge? -- after all that? It would've had to have been done on purpose to hurt him. Was that really what Lex thought of him? He grimaced, clenched his fists on his knees, and looked away.

"Clark..." Lex said softly. He lifted his other hand towards him, checked the motion, then put it on Clark's other shoulder. Was Lex shaking slightly, or was that him?

Lex half-stroked his thumbs over Clark's shoulders in a soothing motion. "Ok. Ok. I believe you. It's ok."

Clark swayed a little and felt like banging his head against a wall, for all the good that would do him. He wasn't the one who needed comforting, Lex was supposed to be the one who needed comforting. This was so messed up.

"...But, Clark, if not for that, then why are you back here?"

Argh. And now he had to lie, damnit. His shoulders slumped a little. Well, might as well go for broke. "I was looking for soap."

"Soap."

"Uh, yeah."

"Soap."

"Dish soap."

"You were looking for dish soap."

"Yeah."

"...Ok." He could very clearly hear Lex not asking 'Why?' and other related questions, like 'How did you think you'd be able to find it without any light to see?', even though he was sure Lex really, really wanted to. He could almost hear the gears burning inside Lex's head, straining at the effort. "And you found me, how?"

"I... kind of forgot my flashlight and..." -- inspiration struck -- "fell?"

"You fell." Lex so wasn't buying it.

"...I thought I could maybe get away with getting around the corners instead of having to go back for it?" Clark added tentatively.

Silence.

"...Because then I'd get ragged on by Chloe? Who is right in the next room? ...For forgetting it and stumbling around?" he added even more tentatively.

"You tripped over me?" Lex finally replied, quite dryly.

"Uh, no." That would be a little too blatant a lie; he obviously hadn't done that.

"...You tripped over your own feet?" And boy did that sound dubious.

"Um," Clark said intelligently. "Maybe?" He rubbed the back of his neck and tried: "...Does it really matter?" Worst-case, Lex would say 'yes', but that was the status-quo at the moment. Best-case, maybe he'd let it go?

Lex sighed softly and shook his head slightly. "I suppose not." Success! Except... Clark wasn't sure -- because his hearing was good, but maybe not that good -- but he thought he heard then Lex mutter almost unintelligibly under his breath, "You really need to work on better lies." He clamped down hard on a guilty twitch-and-shoulder-tense -- Lex still had both hands on his shoulders; he'd certainly feel any physical response he didn't completely stifle.

"Help me up," Lex added at a normal decibel level.

Clark stood and reached down for Lex's hands as they slipped off and away from him. He pulled his friend upright in one smooth motion, and at hearing Lex groan slightly, then seeing him reflexively wince and teeter on his feet for a moment before finding his balance, Clark grew somewhat alarmed. It suddenly occurred to Clark that maybe Lex hadn't been as 'fine' as he’d claimed before, outside of Club Zero, and that his fall here might have exacerbated something. Clark checked Lex over very carefully, hands ghosting over arms and head, as he looked him over with both normal and X-ray vision.

"Are you sure you're ok?" Clark asked, not sure if he could trust what he saw. He hadn't really gotten the hang of the layered full-color X-ray yet, especially not the headaches they still tended to induce, and he probably needed more downtime with a biology textbook or twelve before he'd be able to really understand what he was seeing, anyway... or didn't see but should.

"I'm fine," came the prompt reply, so prompt that Clark was sure he couldn't trust it. Unfortunately, he couldn't exactly force his older, fully-grown, legally-an-adult friend to take it easy or go to the hospital. ...Well, ok, not without throwing said friend over a shoulder like an unruly bag of seed -- one with a lot more squirming and raising of holy hell than most plantable items tended to do, but, well, Smallville. Instead, he settled for a mere yet highly audible disapproving sigh, which he was pretty sure registered about as quickly as it was ignored.

"We should probably go back to the main area," Clark added after a long silence, feeling frustrated again.

"Oh? Without the dish soap?" Lex said in an odd tone of voice.

Argh. Clark thought furiously. "I didn't see it in here. We could ask Lana where it is?"

"Hm, that's probably a good idea. I didn't see it in here, either," Lex added, still in that odd tone of voice. And then Clark remembered that it was pretty stupid to talk about trying to see something when it was so dark that you probably could barely see your hand in front of your face, let alone the actual act of looking around itself -- that would take sheer stubbornness and a total lack of capability for embarrassment that he definitely didn’t possess, which Lex knew. He briefly wondered if most human beings were capable of distinguishing objects in the dark by touch alone.

Clark nodded, then shook his head, then remembered that Lex probably couldn't see his movements well and grimaced. He turned and started to walk away, talking over his shoulder, "...I guess if you're sure that you're ok... we should probably--"

--but then rocked backwards slightly as Lex reached out quicksilver-fast and grabbed his right shoulder pretty hard. Woah. He immediately stopped and turned. "What? What's wrong?"

"I... can't see very well. Can you?"

Clark winced and cursed mentally to himself.

"Maybe we should try walking out of here together." 'Carefully,' implied Lex's tone.

Oh. "Ok," said Clark, deciding to follow Lex's lead. He put out his hand to the side and carefully touched a shelf -- Lex seemed to be able to see something in the dark, after all: catching his shoulder like that hadn't seemed just coincidental -- and slid his other hand around Lex's waist. He wondered if he shouldn’t have done that because Lex tensed briefly, but then he relaxed and didn't say anything, so it must've been ok.

Lex moved... very slowly. Unbelievably slowly. He kept one hand on Clark's shoulder and the other outstretched. He even moved his feet in slow half-circles forward, barely picking them up off the floor. And he was definitely taking his time.

"Uh, Lex?"

"Yes?"

"Don't you think we could go a little faster?"

Silence and stopped motion, which was unfortunately the exact opposite of moving faster. Then: "Do you want to trip over anything?"

"...No?"

"Then I suggest we move slowly. Because, if I remember correctly, there were quite a lot of supplies piled up around the shelves, and, as you may remember me mentioning, I tripped over such a pile when that 'ghost' surprised me before. And I, for one, would not like to repeat my earlier header onto the concrete floor."

"Ok, but--" Clark sighed, feeling frustrated as he realized that there was no easy way to get them to the door quickly, as he took a good look around and realized that there really were piles everywhere, and he just hadn't paid them much attention, almost automatically avoiding them. Also, dwelling on the dark was probably not a good idea, either. Instead, he said, "You don't think that the fake ghost woman was something Rothman set up, do you?"

"I doubt it," Lex answered without much thought, starting his slow-slow-too-slow movement forward again.

"Why not?" asked Clark.

"Well for one thing, I'm not dead." Ouch. "For another, the woman didn't look at all like Amanda." He paused for a moment as he carefully half-kicked half-felt his way around an obstacle and tugged Clark along with him. "And, come to think of it, she didn't really attack me, she just materialized out of nowhere and stared at me," he mused.

"Uh, Lex, that doesn't sound like a prank. That sounds like you think you actually saw a ghost."

"Would that be so entirely out of the realm of possibility?" Clark could hear Lex's smirk in his voice.

"Ghost aren't real, none of that mystical stuff is. They're about as real as magic and unicorns," 'you know that,' he subvocalized.

"What, like Chloe's 'meteor freaks'?" Lex teased.

"The meteor rocks are science." End of story. And Clark sooo did not want to talk about that. "Do you think you'd recognize the woman if you saw her again?"

"Girl, actually. And yes, I probably would."

Something occurred to Clark. "You said that the lights went out in here after you heard thunder. Are you sure about that?"

"Clark, the theater's rooms may be fairly well soundproofed, but not that well. This is an old building. It was thunder. The lights flickered once, then there was a much louder thunderclap, and the lights went out shortly after that."

The hair on the back of Clark's neck stood up a little and he stilled. "...Lex, that was when the lights went out." Then he realized how that sounded. "I mean, the power went out."

"One lightning strike and the power went out?" Lex made it sound like the town's power grid should be horribly ashamed of itself.

"We're pretty sure that lightning strike hit the dam and, well, they probably haven't finished fixing everything over there yet from what happened with Eric," Clark offered. "It's not just the Talon -- all the lights across the street are out, too."

"If that's the case, then the Talon's not up to code. The emergency lighting should have come on," Lex said grimly.

That distracted Clark for a minute. "Wait, does that mean Lana can't open tomorrow?"

Lex shook his head. "No, the inspectors passed the building. If it's not up to code then that's on them to have kept the place closed down." Clark drew a breath to object to that passing off of responsibility, having a hard time believing that Lex could just leave it at that, but Lex, unaware of the impending lecture, blithely overrode him first. "I did have my own contractors look at things before the local inspectors, so I doubt there are any major defects in the building itself. It may just be that the permits don't require the lighting in the back areas. I'll have to put in some calls and have it installed later this week. This is a definite safety hazard," he ended absently, lightly kicking a shelving unit.

Clark grimaced, then got back to the point. "But you're sure that you heard thunder first?"

"Yes, Clark," Lex repeated, sounding a little exasperated. "Why?"

"Because it wasn't storming until right before we lost power. Which means the lights going out had to be the power outage, and not someone flicking off the lights."

He could almost hear Lex's mental 'So? The point of this would be?'

"The party was over by then, and Lana and Chloe and Pete and I were just cleaning up. If somebody left this room after that, we would've noticed."

"Even in the dark?"

"We had flashlights, and light coming in from outside through the windows."

"And you were paying attention at all times and never left the room?"

Well, yes, pretty much -- in fact there was no way he could have not noticed given his amped eyesight, but he couldn't admit that. The only time he'd left the main area was to go into the kitchen, and he'd turned his back for all of two seconds. If someone had left, they would've had to have gone into the main area and past his friends towards the front door -- and there was no way they would've missed that -- or come through the kitchen, and he had been in there and would've heard and turned around. There was only the one exit from the storeroom, which they were now standing in front of.

“Clark?”

Clark grimaced. He couldn’t think of anything safe to say, so he didn’t say anything at all.

"Are you implying that... she's still in here?" Lex asked quietly.

No, no that wasn't what he was implying, which was why he was freaking out a little. If there had been another person in here, Clark would've seen them with his X-ray vision earlier when he'd first seen Lex. And Lex wasn't the type of person to lie about something like this as a joke. So, either his friend had been seeing things that weren't there, which was a pretty big concern given the knock to his head, or he had been seeing things that were there...

Clark shivered.

Lex backed up to the door, opened it quickly and pulled Clark through. Clark held the door open, wondering what Lex was up to, and watched Lex orient himself and march over to the group, keeping half an eye back toward Clark and the storeroom.

"Hey, man, what--?" Pete groused.

"Lex? You're still here?" Lana questioned. "I thought you’d left."

Lex hesitated so fractionally that Clark doubted anyone else recognized it. "I was looking for buckets... or pails." Lex reached down and grabbed one of the larger flashlights, then turned on his heel and headed back to Clark, moving quickly.

"Why?" Chloe asked.

Lex grimaced slightly. "I saw the rain clouds and thought it might be best to be prepared, just in case," he shot back over his shoulder, not slowing down.

"You're planning on opening with a leaky roof?" Chloe looked like she smelled a rotten egg, or a story, or both. She stopped getting up midway, weighing hounding Lex with harassing verbal questions, not an easy target, against silently glaring suspiciously down at Lana, who she knew she had a better chance of getting answers out of. She chose to begin with the latter.

"It wasn't on the repair list. Nell had said it was ok, and it didn't look like it had been leaking... The inspectors said it was ok!" Lana defended.

"Better to be safe than sorry, and give the place one final full inspection during a real storm," Lex added, momentarily stopping in front of Clark, glancing up at him, then clicking the flashlight to max setting, moving past him, and disappearing back into the storeroom.

"Wait, wait, you can't have been looking for buckets all this time? It's been raining for an hour! What were you doing back there?" Chloe asked rapid-fire as the thought occurred to her, and she immediately popped up to her feet and moved forward briskly, fully intending to follow Lex. Clark held out a hand, turned and scooped her back. "Hey!" she complained.

"Just --give him a minute," Clark said. He wasn't sure if Lex had actually gone in the back for buckets or not, or if he was coming up with a cover story, or what exactly, but he doubted he wanted an audience for his search.

"What are you doing?" Chloe called into the room around Clark's shoulder and arm.

"Checking something."

Chloe shoved Clark off of her with a grunt -- well, maybe it was closer to shoving herself backwards out of his hold -- and started to go in. Clark took a step sideways and this time body-blocked her path. "Are you kidding me? --Hey! What's really going on?" she asked as Lex came back out the door to stand next to Clark.

"So?" Clark asked.

"No dish soap either," replied Lex.

Ah-ha. Cover story it was. So Lex didn't want his head injury and yet another mysterious black mark to make the rounds and be added to the Talon's already-infamous history? Okay, sure.

"Dish soap?" Lana asked.

"Uh, I was thinking about finishing up the dishes tonight so they wouldn't be piled up first thing tomorrow morning," Clark said, wishing he hadn't had to say that out in the open.

"Oh, the dish soap is in the back office! We ran out of shelf space in the storeroom – the new shelving units are still on backorder," Lana happily supplied. "But you two don't have to do that, really--" she started.

"Wait a minute -- you two were wandering around in there without a flashlight?" Chloe cut her off.

Argh.

Lex paused and blinked. Then he switched off the flashlight, tossed it to Pete -- who caught it handily, but with a frown -- then slipped a hand in his pocket and pulled out a keychain. He picked out a particular cylinder and squeezed, and a small beam of light came out.

"Not quite enough light to read the labels properly," Lex explained, waving the faint lightbeam against the palm of his other hand.

Chloe still looked suspicious. "But where were you--"

"I met up with him in the kitchen. He went in the storeroom with me when I did," Clark added. That gave Lex the additional alibi of possibly having left the Talon and come back, since there was a door to the outside from the kitchen, and Clark knew that no-one had paid attention when he had gone into the storeroom, so no-one could say that it had only been him.

Chloe was still frowning, sensing something was up, but Clark wasn't about to give her anything if Lex wasn't. "Did you see any leaks while you were in there?" Clark asked Lex.

"No. Any leaks in the kitchen or out here? You’ve been here longer than I have." Cool, Lex had picked up on the exit-and-return idea!

"Nope," Clark replied. It was even the truth.

"Has anyone checked the other rooms for roof leaks?" Lex asked, turning to address the room at large, such as it was -- what, all of three more people besides Clark and himself? Clark shook his head slightly.

"We can do that now. Pete, Chloe, you mind? We'll need to check the theater, the bathrooms, the other office, and upstairs. I'm more worried about the upstairs loft apartment, because we haven't had the resources to renovate it yet..." Lana trailed off, herding the other two along in front of her.

“Um, Lana? We should probably get a couple buckets to put in the kitchen regardless -- since there aren’t any in there by the mops...” Not quite true, since there was one lone bucket in there at the moment, but he figured he ought to cover his bases in case Chloe stopped and really thought through Lex’s bucket-retrieval story later, since he and Lex had supposedly been in the kitchen first and all before looking in the storeroom. He knew Chloe hadn’t been back there, and Lana apparently had been pretty forgetful about stocking it, so it should be pretty safe...

“Oh, drat! They should be in there with the dish soap,” Lana called over her shoulder, with a self-deprecating smile and a small gesture towards the aforementioned office. Whew.

Lex's mouth twitched into a half smile and he scooped up another flashlight from the floor and walked over to the back office door. "Coming?" he asked.

Clark sighed and followed. There was a stack of buckets just inside the door and he set one aside, but despite the small size of the room, or perhaps because of it, they still had difficulty getting the dish soap -- there were stacks and stacks of miscellaneous supplies in the way, piled floor-to-ceiling in some places.

But they were both slightly nervous as they worked quietly. Lex obviously couldn't have found anyone in the storeroom... right? When Clark tilted his head at him, Lex's lips thinned and he shook his head once.

"...Maybe somebody else got a hold of the meteor rock tattoo formula?" Clark quietly offered.

Lex looked at him carefully. "It's a possibility."

But they both knew that neither of them wanted to admit that maybe, just maybe, it had been a real ghost after all.

"Well, it's just silly, right? The Talon isn't haunted. It's just an old movie theater."

"Oh, certainly," agreed Lex. "You only get ghosts in old opera houses," he added, straight-faced.

"Ha ha."

Clark wasn't sure that either of them was completely buying it, though. Not on a night like this.

~*~*~*~*~*~


~*~*~*~*~*~

The two of them finally retrieved the dish soap from the back office, and Clark dropped it in a single bucket as they both made their way into the kitchen. Lex raised an eyebrow at the flashlight already illuminating the dirty dishes, right where Clark had left it, and a smirk threatened to break out.

Clark wondered if his, 'yeah, you want to make something of it?' was communicated properly through his glare of response, because now it looked like Lex was trying to stifle a laugh.

Lex gave him an amused look and swept his flashlight beam over the accumulation of dirty dishes. The pile was rather large. No -- make that looming with a side-order of threatening. Clark sighed audibly and stepped forward to start, plunking the container of liquid dish soap down on the counter and setting the bucket down on the ground temporarily.

He sadly wondered if it was going to be enough, or if they were going to have to go back to the office and retrieve more in the middle of their effort. He shook his head to himself slightly, then moved to the right sink and started to reach for the knobs, but he paused when he realized Lex wasn't doing the same.

Instead, Lex was looking over the two sinks thoughtfully. Clark didn't get it -- they were just the usual sort of industrial sinks -- large stainless-steel tub basins with a lever to close or open the drain underneath, knobs to select the right mix and amount of hot and cold water, and over each sink a flexible industrial sprayer with a lever at the head for controlling the water flow, one that you could unhook from its overhead faucet-holder for close-up use -- nothing special. Lex was scrutinizing them seriously, however, like a complex math problem laid out before him, one with lots of weird symbols and squiggles.

Clark glanced back at the sinks and suddenly wondered what Lex saw when he looked at these. From the way Lex was giving everything the once-over, it was clear he'd never seen one before -- at least, not in this configuration, Clark knew he could use a kitchen sink from some of the times they’d hung out in the mansion's kitchen. Clark was about to explain the setup to him, but stopped as Lex suddenly seemed to be wholly present in the room and in the moment again. For some reason, he had that self-assured look he got when he'd come to some internal resolution and a decision. Clark paused and waited, watching. Lex nodded to himself, once, and then he did the most amazing thing.

Lex stepped forward, unhooked the sprayhead and left it dangling for the moment, then flipped the flashlight -- pointing down -- in his hand and deftly hooked it in snugly where the sprayer was usually held.

Clark looked on in amazement. The beam not only played over the entire sink, but the light bounced off the stainless steel and made it seem even brighter. It was also high enough that the surroundings were lit up by the attenuated light from the original source beam. It was... brilliant!

Lex glanced over at him with a small, satisfied smile, then he scooped up Clark's previously-abandoned flashlight from the counter, reached across, and did the same for Clark's sink, as well.

Clark smiled back, then, while he still remembered to do so, scooped up the bucket and moved over to the mop corner, placing it down next to its companion. He saw Lex’s eyebrows raise slightly, take in the two wet mops and now two buckets, and the slight head tilt and narrowing of eyes, though short-lived, was a bit too assessing for comfort. Clark tried to ignore the extra attention he had gotten, instead opting to focus on locating a couple more towels -- with two of them working, they'd need more -- and scrubbers, before walking back over and handing Lex his fair share.

Lex accepted them before passing over a small stack of the dirty dishes and they started working in a comfortable, companionable silence, elbow-to-elbow. After awhile, they picked up a rhythm: Lex took the easier dishes, cleaned them off quickly, and set them to the side dripping, giving the more caked-on stuff to Clark to handle. Lex then set cups, mugs, and bowls to soaking and slid utensils into those, also to soak. Lex then dried anything accumulated in the 'wet' stack in the meantime and set it aside in the 'dry' stack while Clark kept working on the random worst of the dirty dishes, pots, and pans and passing them off wet. Then, once Lex had made a dent in the 'wet' pile, he went back to the sink and finished cleaning up the soaked items while Clark took his turn at drying dishes, both the 'wet' items passed over from Lex and the current 'wet' pile. Once Lex cleared out his sink again, they started the process all over again. There was a lot to clean, though.

Five full iterations later, and only halfway through the pile, the center table in the kitchen was near-to-overflowing with clean, dried items. They glanced at each other, and mutually decided to stop to put dishes away and clear more space before continuing.

After awhile, Lex seemed to get tired of staring intensely at the insides of drawers in order to tell what slots the silverware should be put into. Rather than retrieve one of the larger flashlights from the sink area, he pulled out his little keychain light for more illumination, instead.

"So, why didn't you pull that mini flashlight out earlier in the storeroom?" Clark half-accused in consternation, shattering the quiet.

"Would you believe me if I said that I didn't think of it before?"

"No!"

Lex smirked slightly. Clark felt a little annoyed, because that wasn't a confirmation or a denial.

"Brat," Clark muttered.

"Excuse me?" came the half-laughing response.

"What? You are! You were hanging onto me in there and slowing us down on purpose!"

Silence.

Wait-- "...You were slowing us down on purpose?" Clark looked at Lex with no small amount of alarm -- he hadn't been that hurt, had he?

"I can't want to just spend more time with you sometimes?" Lex asked quietly.

Clark blew out a breath and let the tension just fall from his shoulders, then frowned a little. "You couldn't just ask?" ...Oh dear god, was Lex pouting? "And you wonder why I called you a brat?"

Lex tilted his head slightly to the side and glared up at him sideways. "You didn't know that before you said that."

"Doesn't make it any less true," Clark pointed out. "And I am a good judge of character."

"Oh, you are, are you?" Lex replied sardonically.

"Yes," Clark grinned.

"Then why do you hang out with me?"

That brought Clark's mental thought process to a dead stop. What the hell? "--Lex!" Clark set down the stack of plates he'd been holding and turned to face Lex fully, but this was one of those few times Lex would not meet his eyes.

"Sorry, I--" Lex started, apologetically.

"No, that's-- you shouldn't say things like that." Clark felt an undirected anger at the world.

"Why not? It's true," Lex said quietly. Clark was about to read him the riot act, when Lex looked straight up at him and said, "I've got things in my past that have already made trouble for you and your family. You were avoiding me earlier this evening after the trip back from Metropolis, once we were no longer in forced close company. So, why aren't you going with your instincts?"

Clark deflated abruptly. Apparently he had only himself to be angry with for this. "My instincts aren't saying to avoid you, that's just -- I was feeling uncomfortable because I didn't know what to do. I don't know what's going on with you. You don't... --you don't talk about things like this, ever -- you don't ever really talk about yourself, and... I had to, to research you to figure out what was going on because you wouldn't tell me," and god, the bitter sickening irony of that, "and you almost died because..."

Clark let out a frustrated sigh and dropped his eyes -- get any further into that and he'd be taking credit for saving him when he'd tried pretty hard to make it look like he hadn't. "Look, I get that what happened with Amanda was painful and you wouldn't want to talk about it -- I wouldn't want to talk about it, either, if it were me -- and maybe you were scared something was going to happen to me or Lana or somebody if you talked about it, and maybe you were even trying to protect us by not saying anything..."

He could sort of relate to that, if that was what Lex had been thinking and feeling. He met his eyes again briefly, and even that was difficult. "…But I don't know for sure why you did what you did, because you won't talk to me about it, about any of it, and-- even if you didn't want to talk about Amanda, you could've said something, like who you thought was after you and what they looked like so everybody could watch out for them. I only found out about the fake Jude and the Club Zero connection by accident," and only because Chloe had shown him her photos of the farm with the C.E.P. guys at exactly the right time. He scrubbed a hand through his hair and glanced off to the side and then back again, getting even more frustrated with Lex the more he tried to talk this out. "But, even after everything that just happened, getting kidnapped and all of it, you're still acting like nothing happened. You almost died today, and I don't know what you're thinking! There's, there's no way that you're just 'fine'. And I don't like having to guess what's going on with you." ...especially when I might be able to help. "Friends are supposed to talk about this stuff."

He realized that Lex was actually twitching as he finished that last bit, and his usual manic energy was almost crackling off of him like little jagged lightning bolts -- barely restrained. Clark swallowed hard and resisted the urge to take a step or two back. Uh oh, what did he do wrong...?

"Well, what do you want me to do, Clark?" Lex started out slow, low, and dangerous. "Do you want me to talk about my feelings? About what I felt each time those bastards inflicted something on me, on you and your family? What it felt like to have your father blame me for something I didn't do? Or what it was like to be greeted with severed hands and dead bodies and ghastly screams every time I turned around? To hang from the ceiling for hours, getting shot at, not knowing when I was going to die? What it was like to have to never see Amanda again, never speak to her, because I had to in order to keep her safe? To find out now that it was for nothing, that rather than suffering and dying in prison she'd suffered outside of prison and died by her own hand, instead? What people said about me behind my back in whispers that I couldn't ignore, while I remained silent, thinking I was helping her by doing so? Do you want to watch me cry? Scream? Break down laughing hysterically? Should I feel bad for not baring my soul to you about my family life growing up? Do you really want to know the worst of it? Do you think you could handle it? Would you even believe me if I told you? Because I've seen the look on your face when I talk about Luthor family traditions, Clark. You don't understand, you can't even comprehend..." Lex gritted out, then closed his eyes and snapped his teeth down as if to prevent himself from saying any more than he already had.

"But--" Clark began. He stopped abruptly when Lex threw his shoulders back, seeming to brace himself, then tilted his head back up and snapped his eyes open, boring into Clark's gaze with his own.

"No, Clark! You--" Lex tried to collect himself, and failed. "You listen to me. That's what you want, right? For me to talk? If I talk, that means you listen." Lex snarled it out and took a step towards Clark, glaring up at him. "You don't know the first thing about me, and you don't want to know. We've known each other for almost six months now, and you've never wanted to know anything about me before, never asked. We hang out sometimes, and you run around town haphazardly trying to save the day and putting yourself in harm's way while sometimes letting me know about it, and that's about it for you. And any time I try to ask something that you don't like -- by god knows what criteria, because most of it isn't even personal -- you either shut down, lie, yell, or find some other way to try and redirect or otherwise distract me!"

"You talk a good game about friendship and what it means and what it is, and maybe I don't know much about how to be a good friend, Clark, but I do have eyes and ears. I can see how you interact with your other friends, and how they interact with you. Does Lana ever treat you as anything other than a convenient workhorse or a silent ear? Has she ever asked about your problems? Did she even notice when you drifted apart when you were younger, or try to keep up the friendship? Does Chloe see you as anything other than a 'farmboy'? Has she even tried? Does she understand personal boundaries? Is she even capable of keeping a secret? If you ever told her anything that you didn't want anyone else to know, what would happen? And if she didn't like it, or thought it was juicy enough, how long do you think it would be before she wrote it up in the Torch? And how long would she keep up her righteous indignation if she felt offended by it; how long and how hard would she laugh about it afterwards if it were anything else? Has she ever been the one to extend an olive branch when something's gotten her angry, for whatever reason? And Pete, who is your best friend -- does he ever talk about his home life with you, past complaining about his brothers a bit? Does he ever ask you what it's like to grow up adopted or without siblings? What it's like working on the farm and trying to balance schoolwork at the same time? Does he ever talk to you about what he worries about in the future, or what he wants to do after high school? Does he even talk about girls with you seriously? Do you know if he has a crush on someone, or who he might be dating at any given point? Has he ever tried to help you out with Lana, or has he always just blown you off and laughed about it with Chloe? Do any of your friends ever talk about anything important with you? Do you with them?"

Clark felt like he'd been socked in the chest with a fistful of meteor rock.

"So tell me, Clark, exactly what do friends talk about with each other? Exactly what do they share?" And everything in his posture, his stance, and his gaze was a challenge: 'Am I wrong?!'

But Clark... couldn't respond. He didn't know how. Nothing Lex had said was wrong. He'd never really... thought about it like that. Then he swallowed around a painful lump in his throat, because it occurred to him that maybe the reason it was this way was because of him and his secret -- he couldn't really trust others, and so they couldn't really trust him in return. Maybe it was just a failing with him, for being alien. ...Or maybe he'd gotten it really wrong all along -- maybe the only people anyone could trust that way was family.

"Clark?"

"I--" Clark dropped his gaze, couldn't meet Lex's eyes, couldn't even really look at him at all. "Maybe... maybe you're right. Maybe..." Clark swallowed. "I..." God, everything hurt. "I should... get home, it's late, I have chores. Tell Lana I'm sorry I couldn't help finish the dishes," he half-mumbled. Then he turned and shoved his way out the back entrance of the kitchen. Once he was out into the alleyway, he just ran. He didn't even notice the rain.

~*~*~*~*~*~


~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex stared.

He hadn't meant to do that.

That wasn't the response he'd expected.

It was like Clark had just... folded inwards suddenly.

He'd had arguments with Clark before. Shouting matches, even. But nothing like this.

He should, by all rights, be angry. He'd been having trouble enough as it was in keeping it together and Clark, damn him, had just kept pushing. He had every right to be angry. Hell, he'd nearly fallen apart earlier in front of Phelan of all people, for god's sake, and that was before being abducted, shoved into a straitjacket, hung from the ceiling in a place that held nothing but bad memories for him, and toyed with in a sick perversion of Russian roulette for hours on end. He didn't want to dwell on what happened -- it was over and he wanted to forget it had ever happened and ignore it completely. But Clark wouldn't let him. But he didn't feel angry anymore; after having lashed out at Clark, he felt sick. Like he'd broken something very important.

The door stayed closed. Clark wasn't coming back? He'd really left?

He walked forward and opened the door, thinking that maybe, just maybe, Clark was standing out in the alleyway uncertainly, feeling like he couldn't come back inside. Or was locked out.

No Clark. Just a lot of rain.

A lot of rain. Shouldn't the deluge have been more than enough to drive anyone back indoors, even with an umbrella?

Shit, shit, shit!

Lex flinched at a slight gust of wind that blew some of the ice-cold rain forward from under the eaves to lightly spray him. He backed up a step, letting the door slam shut, glanced around, and grabbed one of the umbrellas sitting near the door -- put there explicitly for employee use when quick treks into the alleyway for loading and unloading might be necessary during unexpected inclement weather. He’d added the line item to the Talon’s acquisitions list himself, and fully blamed Clark for that -- for slowly teaching him that small things would be accepted, and treated as if they were big things. The idea was still amazing to him, despite Clark’s consistent reactions as an existing living proof.

Yet, he’d actually had to explain to Lana why he’d wanted them on there, and then had further found himself needing to defend keeping them in the budget. It had surprised him. She’d been penny-pinching despite it being wholly unnecessary to do so -- he was mainly going along with this as a hobby, and a way to get to know Clark’s main love interest a little better, as he had been wondering what exactly his younger friend saw in her besides a pretty face-- and as part-owner, he wouldn’t mind supplementing the income a bit to keep it afloat when it ran into the red.

He’d thought the whole experience might be a little restive, compared to the stress of managing the #3 plant. Instead, he’d found himself arguing with a teenage girl over the fiscal responsibility of keeping around items that would most likely need replacement intermittently due to shrinkage loss. He’d joked that they could always personalize the umbrellas with the Talon logo and get free advertising while easily being able to track down the accidentally pilfered items for retrieval. Lana had huffed at him without amusement.

It probably hadn’t helped that he actually agreed with her somewhat less than polished and rather immature monetary arguments on some level, as they nevertheless closely mirrored what his own sentiments would have been under normal circumstances. The original idea of the umbrella gesture had simply been the personally-motivated, somewhat benign view that it would just be a nice thing to do for the teenaged employees who would be undoubtedly be making up the majority of the workforce.

All-in-all, he’d had executive board meetings with his father that had gone better. ...Not that he would ever suggest any such line of reasoning to his father. Every LuthorCorp business decision had to be backed up with at least a half-dozen good, strong, financially-motivated money-saving and efficiency-streamlining motives and methods, regardless of what Lex’s actual top two or three reasons were for wanting to do something, and god-help-him if he ever voiced anything to his father as being ‘for the sole benefit of the employees’. ...Come to think of it, that was probably why he’d had so much trouble with Lana -- when had he ever tried to put forth something he’d wanted, something purely out of a nebulous feeling, with no rationale or proper reasoning to justify the cost? It was a wonder he’d been able to hear himself think over his own internal cringing.

Had he ever done anything substantive to go after something he’d truly wanted without a solid logical justification to mask the true source of his interest? Even his interest in comic books was shielded by the rationale of a collectibles investment with dual copies of each issue bought, weak and see-through as the argument had always been. No, the closest he’d ever come to that had been... actually, no, wait-- he had done so before. There had been some very iffy situations with Clark, times when he'd asked for something he’d wanted in a roundabout way... but Clark just gave of himself like it was as natural to him as breathing -- and Lex had never had to attempt to defend what he wanted from him, to him, with him. Had Clark been spoiling him in some way? Lex shook his head slightly at the thought.

Well, regardless of earlier arguments, the umbrella stock was certainly coming in useful at the moment, Lex mused. Probably one of those karma things he’d surreptitiously overheard Chloe snark about in Clark’s presence before, he thought with a slight smirk. But he quickly lost that expression to a frown as he opened the borrowed umbrella, shouldered open the outside door against the wind, and went out in search of an elusive Clark. He recognized his own mental avoidance habits in response to rather disastrous situations of his own making, and he’d stalled for far too long as it was.

The cold wind and the rain caught up in it effectively destroyed what little good humor he could still pretend to claim within seconds. He grimaced and turned to check the door as it closed behind him. Locked? -- yes -- so Clark really could not have gotten back in this way. After glancing up and down the alleyway and confirming no Clark in sight, Lex immediately turned to his right and hurriedly made his way around the periphery of the building towards the front edifice -- the front door was the obvious option at this point. Maybe he could catch up to Clark with the umbrella before he was entirely soaked getting back inside?

Lex gritted his teeth against the onslaught as the first true gust hit him out of the shelter of the alleyway and suppressed a shiver. Then he started in shock as he got a good look down the street. He wildly turned around, sweeping his gaze the opposite way, down other alleys, then back towards the front of the building.

No Clark. No Clark anywhere.

Lex twitched and started forward. He hadn’t paused, frozen-up, inside that long, had he? All of what--?, ten, maybe twenty seconds? He stopped in front of the large windows and got a good look inside the Talon -- no, Clark wasn’t back inside, either!

Lex felt something clench inside his chest, because this... just wasn’t possible. Even if Clark hadn’t been trying to get back inside and had set off at a dead run, there should have been some sign of him. The rain was still coming down fairly hard, but visibility wasn’t that bad. --Goddamn it!

Lex turned on his heel and nearly sprinted back around the corner and down the alleyway to emerge at the other side. He half-slid to a stop and was greeted to a similarly Clark-less set of streets.

For a moment, Lex was overcome by an all-encompassing anger. Had Clark really thought “chores” was a good excuse to run off like this? As if he could get anything done on the farm out in this weather? Lex had spent summers with his mother at the ranch in Montana, before she’d died and his dad had sold the property. He damn well knew exactly what “farm chores” entailed. The boy couldn’t lie worth a damn... except that he could. Christ, he’d just proven he could with that unbelievably subtle wholly-fabricated “kitchen-meeting” not a half-hour prior, hadn’t he?

Clark’s original statement hadn’t been an accidental choice of words, Lex had recognized the chance for what it was and immediately used it, and then... then Clark had built off of it. Not only that, he’d practically filled in the cracks and mortared the whole mess into a coherent whole with expert skill and a careful attention to detail. Asking after buckets to supply the kitchen Lex had supposedly passed through, and fictitiously not found any within while looking for such, when there was already one there... Lex barely suppressed the urge to punch an immediately available brick wall in the form of the back of the newly-converted theater.

So, what the hell did this mean with all those times Clark had flat-out bald-faced lied to him? Could Clark simply not be bothered to expend the effort to lie to him properly? Did he really think Lex was so stupid that he wouldn’t notice? --No, no, he was sure that Clark knew when Lex knew he was lying, and that he knew that Clark knew that he knew Clark was lying. What did it mean, then, if he was wholly capable of lying and lying well and just... did it poorly anyway? He couldn’t believe that Clark couldn’t do anything he set his mind to if he really wanted to. So why the hell would he want Lex to catch him at it? To continue to catch him at it, over and over and over again? He couldn’t think of any conceivable reason for it.

Lex just... had to stop thinking about this. Right now. No good could come of this, especially while he was in this state.

Another gust of wind and rain-soaking helped him to refocus back in the moment. He let out a breath and tried to unclench his teeth and fists. His choice right now was actually quite simple -- go after Clark, or go home.

To hell with it.

Lex gritted his teeth and headed for his car.

He knew that if he didn't go after Clark, that that was probably it: fledgling friendship over before it had barely even begun. He was already in dire straits with Clark's parents, worse than he'd ever been, due to the illegal dumping that had killed off their herd. Forget that it hadn't been his fault -- the chemicals were from his plant, thus it was his responsibility that they be disposed of properly, and if his security had been so lax that this had happened, then... regardless of where the blame ultimately should or should not fall, some major changes in procedure needed to happen.

So, even if Clark wanted to continue to associate with Lex, with pressure from his parents working against them it would be difficult. And, after what had happened tonight, and with Clark having run off like that without regard for the weather, he doubted Clark would be the one coming to him to talk, even if things magically resolved themselves at the farm. And, if Lex left things as they were, it would probably be too late if he waited long enough for the general situation to improve, on the unlikely hope that in time tempers would cool, if they ever did. Clark did not handle awkward well, and the longer their fight went without resolution, the less likely he would be to want to bring it up at all, and eventually the easiest way to do that would be to avoid Lex entirely. So if Lex wanted to mend things between them, he was going to have to be the one to step forward, and without delay. He knew all this.

He pulled his car keys out of his pocket and rifled through them.

Clark was far too young for him, a 14-year-old-mess, and who in their right mind would want to hang out with a high school freshman at his age, anyway? He was a reckless, enthusiastic, nosy, energetic, bookish, thoroughly annoying kid with absolutely mercurial moods at times, not to mention a distressing savior complex that made some of the biblical types look like slackers, coupled with a downright pathological tendency to lie so unbelievably badly that he'd give Ganser syndrome a bad name.

He found the car remote and hit the button to unlock the doors.

...Seriously, Clark sucked at lying to him. Mother Teresa would lie better than he did. Plus, he was an open book. A practically pristine open book with only a handful of the most important pages written in an unknown foreign language, and god-help-him but he wanted to whack the boy over the head with a Rosetta stone sometimes. Several times. Until he finally gave it up.

He shivered as another wind gust blew more rain onto him and ducked down further under the umbrella in a futile effort against the elements.

He'd be much better off letting things lie as they were and finding someone of his own age and social status to associate with. Someone reasonably down-to-earth, who didn't think partying hard was an excellent use of all available time, and who his father couldn't bribe, beat, or blackmail into stabbing him in the back or – worse – keeping tabs on him.

He closed his eyes and rubbed them with one hand, then leaned against the car for a moment, swaying with the wind, and sighed.

He had no damn clue how he was going to get past Clark's parents to talk to him. Or what to say. Or how he'd react. Assuming he wasn't met with a shotgun barrel in his face for running a half-drowned farmboy home to his parents with tears in his eyes. Because almost getting shot in the head again was really going to be a delight and talking down a teenager and his irascible parents was just a lovely time and absolutely how he wanted to spend the rest of this fine evening.

Fuck.

He slid his hand down to the door handle, his mind already trudging up the road of a farmhouse drive, having been thoroughly engaged for quite some time now with the problem of how the hell he was going to manage to pull this off. Maybe he could steal a ladder from the barn and hit up Clark's bedroom window instead, bypass the parents entirely. He pulled the handle and opened the car door.

--And promptly yelped then cursed as a wave of ice-cold water crashed over his thighs and feet.

Lex was frozen for a moment, staring in horror downwards as the wave turned into more of a slow-flowing stream coming out of his car.

He opened the door a little more and continued to watch it drain out of the footwell in fascinated horror. Then he looked up a little further.

The top was down on his convertible.

The top was... down on his convertible, just as he'd left it earlier when he'd arrived with Clark, long before the clouds had started rolling in. The top was down, the windows were rolled all the way down, and...

Lex giggled once.

It had been raining for two hours like it was serious business. His car was a low-rent pool. There were small, standing puddles of water streaming down the seat cushions... that were slowly refilling to overflow from the deluge still pouring out of the sky, even now.

Lex giggled again a little longer, then reflexively slapped a hand over his mouth and squeezed, hard, to force himself to stop.

His shoulders shook slightly. His body began to shiver, not just from the sideways-blown rain.

He gave up and started to laugh hysterically.

It was... too much. Just...

Lex went weak in the knees and just slid down the side of his car. Let the umbrella fall from his grasp, tilted his head back, and laughed as the cold, cold rain cascaded down his face. He laughed so hard and so long he started to double over, his sides beginning to hurt as he began to gasp for breath. It felt a little like a half-remembered asthma attack, and he felt a vague panic before he realized it was not his throat closing up; he just needed to breathe a little deeper, a little longer.

He tried not to wrap his arms around his midsection and desperately grab at his sides, not to clutch cold fingers around his throat, and instead focused on regulating his breathing in past small sobs of air. The rain helped, too – holding on to that feeling of little cold needle-droplets, getting progressively cooler as night approached, hitting the exposed skin of his head and hands got him away from thinking about ghosts, alive and dead, bodies, drowned cars and relationships and… drowning in cars and relationships… Lex scrubbed at his face and took in his present reality: one young male Luthor, sitting on the wet ground, getting rained on, curled up next to his waterlogged car, needing to get from point A – here – to point B – Clark.

Karma, indeed.

Screw karma.

Lex suppressed a shiver and decided that getting out of the rain would be an excellent idea at this juncture, and getting the top of the car up would be a good start in that. He turned and half-collapsed against the car, the metal a solid cool presence against his back. Glancing down, he tiredly scooped up his keys from where he’d dropped them, then hit the remote button for automatically putting up the roof.

He didn’t hear anything. Not even a click.

Lex frowned and hit the button again, then glanced up behind him. Nothing was moving.

He turned around and cautiously pushed himself up. Hit the button again, then realized that nothing blinked lights at him in the car. No headlights, no lights on the console, nothing.

With a grim feeling, Lex punched the button for locking and unlocking the doors once, twice in quick succession, and didn’t see the headlights flicker, didn’t hear any cheerful car beep of acknowledgment, didn’t see the locks themselves click or move one whit.

Then Lex finally remembered that he hadn’t locked the car earlier, either. And he couldn’t remember having heard any response when he hit the button before getting attacked by rapidly-exiting water, either.

Fuck. Fuck!!

If the car wasn’t even responding to the door lock, then the computer console was completely shot. Granted, the damn thing was never meant to be waterproof, but--! He blew out an exasperated breath at himself. He wasn’t going to be able to start the car if the computer was down -- the security measures that read the encrypted chip in the starter key wouldn’t be working.

Stubbornly, he spent a moment sitting in the puddle in the driver’s seat trying the key in the ignition, anyway, for the hell of it, freezing his ass off while doing so.

Damnit.

He tiredly let himself tilt forward and his forehead impacted the steering wheel with a soft, solid thunk.

Ok. He was an adult with a nonfunctional car. He could handle this. People dealt with these sorts of things all the time, and it wasn’t like he was stranded out in the middle of nowhere – he was in the middle of town, for god’s sake. He could probably walk wherever he needed to go, despite the steadily-dropping-in-temperature rain.

So, what would any reasonable adult do, when faced with a nonfunctional car that needed servicing… when the power in town was out… and a nosy, high school reporter was lurking about, ready to poke holes in his Clark-approved “oh, I came back to the Talon during the rainstorm” cover story? He’d been trying to make it a practice to give as much patronage to the local businesses as he could, but if he sent the car to the local repair shop – inexperience with foreign cars of any cost, aside – or even had them tow it to the mansion’s garage for him, people would talk. And, what was he going to say: “The car wasn’t functioning properly before I left, but I decided to drive it anyway, instead of one of my fifteen other cars”? “I drove here in the pouring rain with the top down, but magically entered the Talon bone-dry”? “I felt like putting the top down after arriving, because I thought the leather upholstery needed a good bath”?

…All right, maybe Clark wasn’t as bad at lying as he thought.

Lex briefly wondered if he could blame this one on metal fatigue. Or mental fatigue. Because Clark surely used that one often enough, and sometimes it sounded a little like he was slurring the word.

Lex allowed himself the luxury of an audible sigh -- just this once – and got out of the car, carefully closing the door. He reached into an inner jacket pocket for his cellphone while leaning down and scooping up his umbrella -- it wouldn’t help him much at this point, being fairly thoroughly wet all over, but maybe it would help keep the cellphone a little dry. He thanked god, or his emergency planners – close enough – for the auxiliary electrical generator that the mansion sported, as well as the low-powered cellphone tower that someone, somehow had managed to get installed on the premises, as well. With the power out across town, the local radio station might also be down, or down to minimal on-site power for emergency broadcasting if they had their own backup source. By extension, that would mean cutting power to the cellphone antennas it usually supported, which would mean that only landlines would be functional for the duration… except for cellphones that could use the mansion’s backup antenna, like his.

This meant that, when he dialed the mansion, not only did the call go through, but the housestaff there were well-endowed with the digital resources necessary to broker someone from out-of-town into towing the car someplace remote, reliable, respectable, and, above all, discreet, for repairs.

When given the ETA for the towing service to arrive – more than five minutes -- he was then asked if he would like the limo sent for him, or, rather, where he wanted the limo to pick him up.

Lex grimaced, because, god, he didn’t want that – he liked driving himself wherever he needed to go, thank you -- and ended up in a half-hearted argument where he barely convinced his staff that, no, he did not need any of his cars driven down to him, either, but only just. It only occurred to him after he hung up that, if he had agreed to someone driving a car down for him to drive back home alone, while someone else tailed them and picked up the impromptu driver… wasteful of people’s time and smacking of the arrogance of a rich boy’s leisure as it had felt when it had been strongly suggested to him, he could have driven to the Kent farm instead of back to the mansion if he had done so. Now he was truly resigned to walking, because there was no way he was going to call up the mansion again and ask them to do that after he’d just finished turning them down. It would set a bad precedent, besides: Luthors didn’t change their minds – they always made the right decision, first-time – he snorted quietly as that little bit of pure Lionel arrogance was too much for even him to let slide.

Well, there was nothing for it.

Lex gave his poor, abused car one last long look. He contemplated trying to wrestle the top back up, but he’d need both hands for that, he was already disastrously close to a drowned-Luthor state and having a hard time not shivering, and he really didn’t need another good soaking.

Instead, he turned on his heel, only allowed himself to hunch under the umbrella a fraction, and dialed up the Kent farmhouse on his cell as he walked, Clark-bound, feeling that he might as well start the night’s torture immediately, rather than risk further contempt by daring to drop by unannounced as he normally did.

The phone connected. And rang. And rang. And rang.

No answering machine – that was normal. Expected, even.

No-one picking up? –Wasn’t.

Lex brought the phone down and glared at the screen. Yes, he’d dialed the right number. He brought it back to his ear.

It kept ringing.

It wasn’t as though they could be screening his calls, Lex realized. The Kents didn’t have caller-id, and even if they did it wouldn’t be working with the power out.

Why were they not answering the phone? Mrs. Kent always picked up immediately when she was in the house -- and she was almost always in the house. Mr. Kent, more rarely, and only when Mrs. Kent was busy. Clark when he was expecting a call and in the kitchen. For none of the three to pick up after three rings was beyond abnormal.

Lex hung up and tried dialing again. When the same experience repeated itself, he hung up again and, feeling slightly alarmed, picked up his pace.

He didn’t know what was going on, but it couldn’t be good.

He tried not to panic. Surely there was a logical explanation, non-meteor-freak-related. Surely, Roy Rothman hadn’t been working with anyone else. Surely, it was all over now, for good this time.

…And who had the girl in the Talon been?

Lex shivered and put it out of his mind. Clark should be fine. He always was, wasn’t he? When had he not gotten out of a situation unscathed? Besides, this wasn’t exactly the middle of the Suicide Slums: a tall, muscular boy like Clark wasn’t about to be challenged by gangbanger punks or grabbed off the street for rough trade out here in the middle of the countryside. It was generally safe to walk the streets here. Clark would be sequestered at home with his family by now. They had guns. If some unwelcome guest made themselves known, they would be fine; they could handle it. He had other things to worry about, like how not to get himself shot by said capable parents, and what the hell he was going to say to Clark when he saw him next.

Somehow, he didn’t think abject begging would be a good start. It might set the wrong tone...

~*~*~*~*~*~


~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex had been slogging along through wind and freezing-cold rain in straight lines, successfully getting closer to his goal, but his mind had been wandering about in winding circles, not really getting anywhere.

He scrubbed a hand down his face and flicked off a good bit of moisture. It was getting even colder now that nighttime was nearly upon the town, and he really needed to get out of the elements soon. He picked up his walking pace yet again, not caring now if he looked harried by the weather – it wasn’t as if anyone was around to be watching him, anyway, all snug in their houses with all the lights out.

Well, except for very faint lights visible through some of the windows. Candles? Lanterns? Flashlights? He shook his head to himself. He was losing focus on what was important again.

He really hadn’t been getting anywhere, though. Every time he tried to think of what he would say and all the possible ways that any of the Kents could respond, he started to meander into outright fantasy, or draw a blank. Their reactions to the chemical dumping had been unexpected on all fronts. Mrs. Kent, usually quietly supportive, or at least neutral, had actually withdrawn from him, warned him away from her family and Clark, and he assumed vice-versa as well.

Clark… well, his running away from him had been atypical. He’d never just given up during an argument before, and he generally didn’t run from his problems; if anything, when he saw problems, he tended to run towards them, as far as Lex could tell. Mr. Kent’s outright and very loud, very explicit aversion to his presence was, while far beyond anything Lex had been on the receiving end of from him before, actually the most normal-seeming of the three, and he had to be slightly out of his mind in that he almost found that familiar reaction a little comforting.

Lex started to sigh, checked himself, then thought to hell with it and let his breath out gustily. Maybe he was going at this all wrong. Maybe he should be less concerned with trying to play things out just so with verbal sparring, and instead concentrate on attacking the underlying issues.

…Which are what, exactly?

‘Clark running away from me, and the problem of friendship,’ Lex thought promptly, then winced internally at his own self-centeredness.

More Clark-centered, that would be: Clark feeling like he had to run away from him… and the problem of friendship. They were probably connected, too.

Well, that was easy.

Clearly the cold and the wet had been getting to him, for it to have taken him this long.

But it occurred to him that Clark had not just run away from him, but also away from his other friends. Lex hadn’t been standing between Clark and either of the doors, and Clark could have just as easily run out into the main area of the Talon to his other friends for comfort, instead of out into the cold. The inside door had been the one closest to him, in fact.

So why hadn’t he sought after the solace of his friends when Lex had only barely avoided imploding inwards by instead exploding in front of him, largely at him? Wouldn’t a good group of close friends who cared about him have gathered around him, closed ranks about him, and comforted him? Maybe even told Lex off in the process? Friends didn’t laugh and jeer at another friend while they were on the verge of tears and feeling miserable, right?

Of course, Lex was pretty sure that friends weren’t supposed to yell at other friends when they were feeling upset about something that didn’t really have anything to do with those other friends, either, especially when those other friends were feeling concerned about their well-being and wanting to help. Even if the way they tried to go about it was totally unhelpful. He felt like even more of a heel thinking about it.

Could Clark really not trust his friends to be on his side and support him when he needed it? Surely it had simply not crossed his mind to seek them out, for whatever reason…

…or maybe Clark just had crappy friends. Crappy friends that didn't deserve his trust. He obviously wanted more, though, and had actually felt comfortable enough with Lex to tell him exactly what he wanted.

Lex didn't want to be a crappy friend.

Sure, Clark seemed to want the impossible, possibly unobtainable, but when had that ever stopped Lex from trying?

And, he had to admit, though with no small amount of trepidation, what Clark had said had resonated with some deep part of him, despite his counter. His desperate counter, because he'd been feeling pretty damn vulnerable the last few days, and he tended to counterattack when he was feeling vulnerable and someone was making him feel something -- something overwhelming that he couldn't quite identify or put words to, didn't understand, and couldn't control. Back off and pull away emotionally, and that was the best way to deal with his dad, who was the only one who could still make him feel at such a deep level anymore, who always made it hurt. With Clark... he hadn't been trying to let the boy in past the surface level, but somehow Clark had gotten under the surface when he wasn't looking, slowly, inexorably, irreversibly, and he'd lost unregainable ground.

Apparently he'd gotten in through the locked doors of his heart and mind and was well on his way to exploring all down the dusty corridors and making Lex his own... something. "Friendship" did not cover this. "Friendship of legend" hardly did it justice.

But he hadn't been trying to prove his own point at all -- that was what scared him. He agreed with Clark. He'd wanted Clark to tell him he was wrong, and to give him all the reasons why. He didn't have reasons why. He needed them, craved them -- some excuse. Any excuse. For his accusations, he'd pulled together memories of half-allusions to thoughts and actions, quiet observation via guarded sideways glances, and a good amount of guesswork building from his patchwork understanding of the small group’s teenage personalities to tie what he'd said together -- and much of the information had been gleaned from conversations with Clark himself and his reactions.

It hadn't occurred to him that what he had been saying might have been truly accurate. He'd never thought that Clark's chosen small-town friends could be so shallow; Clark seemed fairly discerning in what he expected from people, and why would he spend so much time with them if they weren't worth it? Worth him? He'd confirmed no less than that very same thing earlier, telling Lex that he believed Lex worthy of such distinction, at the start of that disastrous end.

But it suddenly occurred to him -- Clark didn't exactly have a lot of potential friends to choose from, now did he? In a 45,001 population town, how many people were Clark's age? Smallville High wasn't that big. Maybe 300 people in his year-group? Far less than that who he'd know from his classes. And, what if they really were typical small-town people with small-town mindsets? Clark wasn't stupid -- Lex wouldn't waste his time trying to converse with him if he was -- and he doubted that Clark would feel comfortable trying to hold long, intelligent conversations about the things he found interesting, which often had nothing to do with the town or the farm, with people who… wouldn’t agree with him, and might ridicule him for it if he tried.

Taking that into consideration, if there was one thing about Clark's friends that they all had in common, which also made them different from all of the other highly-forgettable teenagers running about town, it was that they didn't just 'go with the flow': they were all outside the norm in one way or another, and each of them had thoughts and goals that went beyond the town limits. Perhaps the last was why they were outsiders.

They didn't fit in; their hearts and minds were elsewhere, and eventually, someday the rest of their bodies would catch up with them -- some sooner than others. Case-in-point: Lana Lang, who'd been living the small-town girl dream for years -- fairy princess, head cheerleader, loved and beloved by all -- and in general winning the popularity contest for life. She had suddenly stopped being 'the good girl' who was always trying to fit in by following the rules and unwritten strictures of the community. She'd literally thrown it all away and decided to go independent and aggressively entrepreneurial instead. Her reputation and the expectations of the entire town and anyone else be damned. Talk about bucking the system... that girl bore watching.

Pete wanted out of town. Drive and drive and never look back, was the impression Lex got. He was itching to go: Lex had sensed that from him, even without Clark having confided the knowledge. Chloe was from out of town -- newly transplanted from the big city a little over a year ago by Gabe -- and a true Metropolis girl through-and-through, highly energetic, pushy, explosive, questioning everything and getting what she wanted almost all the time, and what she wanted was to return to her home once she was done here.

Lana obviously had dreams and aspirations beyond those of normal teenagers, passions and memories to keep alive, and Lex doubted that she'd stay in town even as long as Chloe, once she realized that whatever it was that she wanted for herself clearly wasn't here. Lex himself... was Metropolis, in a way. Although, sometimes he felt like he was becoming acclimated to the town somehow; he never seemed to miss Metropolis as much as he thought he should since he'd come here. Not even once. And, instead of driving the distance to Metropolis to go clubbing nights, he found more enjoyment from long rambling talks with Clark up to his curfew, or exposing Clark to the joys of classic movies and kettle corn at the mansion for impromptu weekend movie fests. Sometimes in the afternoon, no less. Lex snorted to himself. 'My way of bucking the trend is trying to become more wholesome, God help me.'

So, if they were all birds of a feather flocking together, what did that make Clark? Clark was the small-town farmboy and dutiful, hardworking Kent son the way Lex was the Metropolis playboy and envied and feared Luthor scion. Yet, neither one of them quite fit in their proscribed roles.

Clark, as much as he fit in the town, somehow really didn't belong in Smallville, and it drove Lex to distraction sometimes trying to figure out why that was. Other than one totaled car with some really... interesting... dents and tears in its metal components, and a none-too-clear memory of their eyes meeting immediately prior to a head-trauma-inducing, very bad crash -- both less than absolute concrete proof, together more than just hearsay -- he'd had no solid reasoning to back that instinctive feeling... until now.

If Clark were some normal teenager, he wouldn't be hanging out with what were effectively a bunch of misfits, himself included, and they with him. So, there was something more going on there. His level of intelligence was one thing, but the rest... there were days when it was blatantly obvious to him that Clark was forcibly immersing himself in everyday mediocre ho-hum forgettable nonsense, and he did it periodically. It was intensely and oddly directed in such a way that Lex had begun to wonder what vectors Clark was trying to satisfy when he did it. It reminded him a little of Clark’s aborted attempts at Lana, in a way – short-lived, intense, seeming to accomplish nothing. Most distressingly, the overall impression Clark made when doing so all but outright screamed “average!” in a vague sort of way, as though he could cloak himself in it, needed to physically armor himself with it, against the horrors of the world. It was almost as though he sought after normality like a starving man despaired of food and drink.

...And people generally craved what they wanted desperately but didn't have.

Suddenly, everything slid into place. Lex had always suspected Clark wasn’t normal. But Clark knew he wasn't normal, perhaps painfully aware of this fact, and Lex hadn’t really thought through what that self-awareness might mean for his friend before. ...Especially since, unfortunately, for whatever reason, Clark apparently felt he had to be normal, or in the worst-case at least seem that way to everyone else while trying to be.

And, like most anyone, Clark was friends with people who were the closest to him -- to being like him -- that he could get… but this meant that Clark's friends weren't normal, either. Yet Clark couldn't get very close to his friends because then they'd find out that he wasn't normal, too (--see previous: Clark had to be normal), while Clark's friends got as close to him as they could get, as close as he would allow. Not could allow, would allow. But Clark wanted close friendships; he’d proclaimed just as much, earlier.

Furthermore, because of Lex, Clark must have suddenly realized that there was a difference between what he could allow -- far more than he normally allowed -- what he should allow -- far less than he would allow -- and what he wanted to allow -- which maybe surpassed what he thought he could allow, was capable of allowing. It came down to a simple soul-wrenching, mind-wrecking conclusion: Clark couldn't get close without giving up trying to be normal. He wanted to get close. He needed to be normal.

Double-bind. Deadlock.

Small wonder it had looked as though his thought process had crashed and burned and he'd panicked and fled. People had screaming breakdowns and lost their minds over less. His response was perfectly reasonable given the circumstances. And of course the “need” had won out over the “want”.

Lex cursed. He'd done exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. …Well, since he'd put the pressure on, it was only fair that he be the one to try and take it off. He'd have to try and think of a good way to approach doing so; luckily, with an idea of what must have happened inside Clark's head, he felt he had a chance. On reflection, he grimly realized that he was going to have to be brutally straightforward and painfully honest to get anywhere, though. Anything less than jarringly direct probably wouldn't make it through, and any dishonesty now would, when discovered, invariably lead to a deep distrust that could potentially cause backlash enough that Clark might never open up to anyone ever again -- the risk of further pain being just too high.

He looked up and realized that he'd finally slogged his way to the Kent farm. Frowning through the rain under a darkening sky -- it was getting close to sundown -- he realized, as he walked down the main drive, that the truck wasn't there. Where were Clark's parents? Was that why no one had answered the phone? Was Clark home alone? Or could the family have all left for someplace else together? --That seemed unlikely, but for Clark not to answer the phone, regardless of the situation… wasn’t that equally unlikely? Lex felt a bit of trepidation, but it was quickly shoved down. He hadn’t done that much damage to their relationship, had he?

Lex started to trudge up to the house, then paused and looked back towards the barn. If Clark were in a bad mood, he'd be liable to head to the latter more than the former, but if he'd been soaked to the bone by the rain, by rights he ought to be in the house.

Well, Lex probably couldn't get much more wet himself spending a little time checking the barn, just in case. He didn't want to try to break into the house only to find that Clark wasn't inside.

Lex shoved the barn door open with a grimace and slipped inside. He set the umbrella off to the side on the ground, for all the good it had done him on the long walk over here -- the wind had blown the rain at him sideways more times than he'd bothered to count. He shivered at the change in temperature, and realized the barn was actually slightly warmer than out-of-doors. Listening to the horses in the few stalls, he wondered if it was a combination of animal body heat and windbreak, or just one of the two, or inexplicably something else. He even spared a thought for the cows outside that were probably miserable in this weather, until he remembered that the entire herd had died from the illegal chemical dumping.

The blowing wind didn’t quite rattle the sides of the barn, though Lex had half-expected it, nor did he hear any of the whistling sounds he usually associated with air gusts forcing their way into an improperly-sealed building and creating drafts. He shivered for a moment before absently curling his arms around his midsection. The sturdiness of the barn aside, the storm wasn’t letting up, and while the horizon was clear of the storm clouds to the west, he’d seen that the storm stretched out as far as he could see across the Kansas grasslands to the north, from whence the wind was coming. Lex didn’t want to think about the pressure fronts that might have caused this, or the possibility that this was tornado weather and he too ignorant to know it.

The hayloft window was open, but with the last dim twilight rays able to struggle across the horizon and under the cloud-cover being further blocked by the driving rain, there wasn't much fading light making its way inside. He went for his keychain flashlight, but in trying it he realized that water must've gotten inside the tool at some point, either during one of his intermittent soakings, or when he had dropped it on the ground earlier, because it was producing no light.

He sighed and gave himself a few moments to acclimate to the gloom, and realized that while there were deep shadows on the ground level, he could still navigate carefully by the intermittent flashes of lightning... and by memory. The Kents usually kept the main area open, at the very least clear to the staircase up to the loft, and with a start Lex realized that he'd visited Clark's 'fortress' more often than he'd been in many of the rooms in the mansion. He'd certainly spent more time here than any of the rooms other than the library, the dining room, the kitchen, and his bedroom. He wondered what he should be thinking of that, then shook his head and refocused on who was important at the moment -- Clark -- not himself.

He was certain by the time he reached the base of the stairs that Clark couldn't be in here -- he'd heard nothing from above, there was no light and no movement, and no greeting or acknowledgment of any sort. But when he'd gotten high enough to see level with the floor of the loft, he shivered hard and nearly gasped in horror.

Clark was here, after all.

He was sprawled, eyes wide open. Not on the ratty old couch, but across the low coffee table in front of it. His head was towards the stairs, tilted back at the ceiling, his arms and legs loosely dangling off the sides of the table in a manner that made Lex sick to his stomach, a purely visceral reaction to the sight. He wasn't moving. He had all the vitality of a corpse.

Lex stumbled up the stairs and dropped down to crouch behind his head. His hands hovered over him uncertainly, then he saw, after his eyes cleared from the afterimage of another lightning flash, that Clark was breathing, just very slowly and shallowly. But, his eyes weren't blinking. In fact, they seemed almost silver-blue, reflecting the light a little like a cat's, but fundamentally different somehow. He suppressed a shiver -- weren't Clark's eyes green?

He wasn't focused on Lex at all. He seemed to be a million miles away, and he apparently hadn't heard him come in, or trudge up the stairs, despite the fact that Lex hadn't been trying to be quiet at all. When Lex leaned over him, almost eye-to-eye, he was completely unresponsive. Five seconds passed. Ten. Fifteen. Thirty. God, he still wasn't blinking.

"C-Clark?" Lex asked tentatively, finally finding a place for his hovering hands on Clark's shoulders. "Can you hear me?" This wasn't right. Was he drugged? Under the influence of something?

"...Clark?"

~*~*~*~*~*~


~*~*~*~*~*~

Clark came back to himself all at once. He closed his eyes in a long blink, took a deep breath, shifted his whole body slightly, reacquainting himself with the feeling of his muscles in a gravity field, then reopened them, letting his breath out slowly.

Lex's face was hovering above him, inches from his own. He blinked.

Lex blinked back, then looked somewhat... relieved? "Clark…" he breathed.

Clark stared.

“Clark?”

He watched the relieved smile slowly slip from Lex's face, to shift into a furrowed brow and downturned lips and slowly lowering eyebrows.

"Are you all right?"

Clark didn't respond. It was weird that Lex was here.

"What were you doing?"

Lex had interrupted him practicing tricks with his vision. He'd been trying to get the layered stuff down, just trying to see through the roof of the barn to the rain without giving himself headaches, but after awhile he'd realized that he could 'zoom in' and 'zoom out' on things like looking through a telescope at the same time as looking through the things in-between. He'd never been able to do that before, though it occurred to him that maybe it was because he’d never thought to try. Once he’d gotten the hang of the ‘zoom’ after staring at the ceiling for a minute or so, he’d tried combining the two again on purpose. It had gotten really interesting when he'd zoomed in further and further, starting seeing the stars, and then picked a few and started zooming in on galaxies and spiral arms and star nurseries.

Sprawled face-up, with his back supported like it was and everything else just feeling loose-limbed, he almost felt like he was floating solidly nowhere. Like he wasn't anywhere at all. It was kind of... a nice feeling. Removed from everything. He wondered why he'd never tried this before. It was sort of peaceful, especially with his vision filled with stars. He’d always liked staring up at the sky, until the spaceship had ruined it for him. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed the feeling of being small and overwhelmed, isolated yet safe because he really was overlookable as truly insignificant in the grander scheme of things.

"Clark," Lex repeated, a little more harshly. Clark didn't get what his problem was.

"Can you hear me?"

"Why are you here?" Clark finally asked, not really caring about the answer. Lex didn't want to be friends, Clark couldn't be friends. This had been made clear earlier. What, did he want a round two to really drive the point home? Or maybe just the last, final word?

Lex looked taken aback, then vaguely… relieved?... before he composed himself and took a deep breath. "I wanted to apologize for what I said earlier. I shouldn't have said what I did. You're right -- I wasn't feeling fine, and I took it out on you. I'm sorry."

"But you meant what you said."

"Clark--"

"You weren't lying."

"Clark, I..."

"You weren't wrong."

Lex looked pained. "Not being wrong isn't the same thing as being right."

"That's not..." That thought made Clark's head ache. It didn't make sense. They were the same thing. There wasn't a between. There was right, there was wrong, and that was it. "Why are you here?" he restarted. "You don't want to be friends with me, you think I can't --you made that clear."

"I..." Lex looked a bit worried, then suddenly determined. He straightened a little and stared piercingly down at him. "You're right. I don't want to be friends."

Finally. Now Lex would leave. Clark closed his eyes and tried to push away the slowly-returning ache.

"I want to be whatever the hell it is you were talking about wanting us to be."

Clark's eyes snapped open.

"I wanted to be wrong about friendship not being what you said it was. I wanted you to tell me I was wrong."

Clark abruptly slid down the table and sat up, backing away from Lex almost too fast in his startlement, staring. "What?" he said weakly.

"I wanted to be wrong."

Clark started to tear up.

"I don't like the idea of opening up." Lex cautiously pushed himself up and sat on the edge of the table. "It's uncomfortable. It's scary. I probably like the thought of being completely honest and answering questions about myself about as much as you do about yourself," he added quietly. "It doesn't mean I don't want to, with you. I just... don't like being hurt. It's easier if someone hates me and I can say that they don't know me. Someone hating me because of who I'm not is on them. Someone hating me because of who I am is..." He trailed off.

"I don't hate you." Clark whispered.

"I know, Clark. That's part of what scares me. I don't want to lose that, but if you do know me better, I might," Lex added quietly.

"I won't."

"You can't know that. There's always a risk."

Clark opened his mouth to protest -- he hadn't yet, and after surviving the Club Zero mess he doubted that was possible -- then he stopped and felt absolutely forlorn. Lex might hate him if he found out Clark was an alien -- he'd been terrorized by the meteor shower when he was a kid, lost all his hair. He'd been lied to again and again, and mostly for Clark's own good, not Lex's. He remembered what Lex had said about betrayal -- he only trusted once, and that would probably lose him it. What would happen then? ...Yes, Lex had lots of reasons to hate him, if only he knew. Was it really impossible that the reverse could be true? That there might be something about Lex that could make Clark hate? That maybe Lex hating Clark for being an alien and acting on it could make Clark hate Lex back for the betrayal? Dark dread roiled about inside his gut as he stared at his hands, yet again unable to come up with a reply.

"But it's not just me trying to pretend everything's fine sometimes. You're always trying to act like everything's normal, for whatever reason. But it's not."

That came out of nowhere and cut through everything like a knife. Clark's head snapped up and he stared at Lex almost uncomprehendingly. Tears threatened to fall.

"Clark, I know you try to be normal. But I know you're not."

Clark didn't realize he was crying until Lex moved forward and gently brushed his tears away.

"You're extraordinary. And there's nothing wrong with that."

Clark started sobbing in earnest. It hurt like hell. And Lex seemed a little shocked at his response, and the severity of it; Lex was hovering now, looking nervous and concerned and worried, hands fluttering slightly, obviously unsure what to do… other than to tell him terrifyingly wonderful things that he’d always wanted to hear. His mom had always said he was different, special. But she'd never said it was ok.

His dad... didn't say anything about it, really, if he could help it. It was a dirty secret to hide -- there was a long list of things that Clark was not supposed to do around the farm. There was only a very short one of things that were barely tolerated, at best, only because he couldn't keep things that far under wraps, because long ago when they'd told him otherwise he'd tried to obey them, he really had. They'd eventually found out that he went a little crazy if he didn't use his strength or speed at all for too long; it wasn't just a discipline problem.

Worse, there was an even longer list of things he was never supposed to do anywhere, ever, because it was too dangerous. 'Don't do it' came first; 'don't get caught' came second, and was relegated to accidents, because he had to hide who he was. And then he'd found out that they'd even hidden him from himself, and then lied -- to him -- about it. So, maybe it was shameful, too, because his abilities were bad enough, but he wasn't even human and they hadn't wanted him to ever know it.

So, Lex "knew". But he didn't know. That didn't exactly stop Clark from wanting to pretend that Lex had meant what he'd said in exactly the way he wanted. But even this little bit had helped make him feel better -- 'God, how pathetic am I?' But he still couldn't stop crying.

Lex tentatively reached out, then enveloped him in a secure hug, drew him close, not holding back. Clark grabbed at him spasmodically in-between sobs and buried his face in the crook of Lex's shoulder. And, as he cried, it felt like his tears were emptying something out. When Lex started to gently stroke his hair and murmur comforting words to him, like It's ok, and Don't worry, and There's nothing wrong with you, Clark started to shake and cry harder, and he buried himself even deeper in Lex's soothing embrace.

Clark thought he'd never be able to stop crying. But, eventually, the sobs became quiet tears, and his breathing finally evened out a bit. Finally, he wasn't crying at all, just holding onto Lex for the comfort, because it simply felt good.

Finally, with a sigh, he slowly disentangled himself from Lex, though. He knew he couldn't hold him forever. He wiped at his eyes with the back of a hand and mumbled, "Sorry for getting you all wet."

Lex quietly laughed a little and shook his head. "Don't worry, you didn't contribute much."

Clark frowned and took a good look at Lex for the first time since he'd entered the barn. "Oh my god," he said, alarmed. "What happened? Didn't you have an umbrella?"

"It's a bit windy out there, and I had to walk." Clark stared in shock while Lex elaborated. "My car was a bit waterlogged. I hadn't put the top up before we came inside."

"You're soaking wet, you must be freezing--" and he hadn't noticed. He should have noticed.

"You were plenty warm, I didn't mind," Lex put out, almost shyly.

"--god, you're going to get sick!" because he'd been too wrapped up in his own head to see the state Lex was in. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

"Clark, it's ok. I don't get sick--"

Clark stood up and rooted around for a candle in the desk, grabbed some matches, lit it, and shoved it in a handy lantern. He scooped it up, turned to face Lex, and announced, "You need to change into some dry clothes."

"--really, I'm fine--"

"And you should take a warm shower." Mom always said that helped stave off chills; his dad always did it when they got caught out in a summer storm in the fields.

"--and you're wet too, you should take your own advice," Lex pointed out.

Yeah, except he had an alien constitution and probably couldn't get sick from puny earthling germs, ‘Stupid germs.’ He walked over to Lex and stubbornly stared him down. "You first," he said, adamant.

Lex gave up. He finally realized that Clark was in full mother-hen mode and that there was nothing for it. "Ok."

Clark helped him up, his head filled with thoughts of towels and soap, and gratitude that they had a gas-powered water heater, and what he might be able to use as spare clothes that might fit Lex, and more lantern lights so they could see in case the power was still out...

~*~*~*~*~*~


~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex suffered to allow Clark his mother-henning behavior. Frankly, he actually liked it; being taken care of and worried over, though it made him want to blush and feel a bit guilty. He was used to having to take care of himself -- badly, poorly, or otherwise, if at all -- and he was fairly sure that as the adult male here, it really should have been the other way around in this regard.

However, Clark's concern was a welcome return to what he considered normal Clark-like behavior. Besides, after today's scare -- well, to be honest, multiple scares: Club Zero, the 'ghost', the friendship fight, and the loft having thought Clark was dead in his initial panic, he had a lot to choose from -- he really didn't have it in him to discourage Clark now. In fact, he could really use some comforting just then. More hugging would be nice.

But Clark seemed fine now. Apparently, he was over his earlier, somewhat mild breakdown, and he was obviously ready to get back inside the house proper. So, no more hugging for tonight, Lex predicted, and he tried not to feel too sad about it as he stood up. After all, a Clark that did not need a hug was generally a happy Clark, and he wanted Clark to be happy. Or at least happier.

He was beginning to wonder about Clark's actual general happiness level now, given everything that they'd hashed out today. And the way his friend had been clinging to him earlier. ...Not that he hadn't been clinging a little back, Lex realized belatedly. Was comfort supposed to be a two-way thing? Lex wasn't sure. It didn't really sound right to him, though it had felt right somehow, at least at the time...

Following Clark down the loft stairs by the soft candlelight supplied by the lantern, Lex found himself stopped at the bottom, rubbed down all over with a horse blanket, well, a little like a horse -- briskly, efficiently, and with great care -- and then wrapped in another dry horse blanket while the now-wet one was tossed over a stall door, spread out and left to dry. He wasn't really given a chance to respond to the treatment or protest that Clark should dry himself off too, either, before being steered to the door, handed the umbrella -- scooped off of the floor -- and shoved out the barn door, all at a very brisk walk.

Lex clutched the umbrella with one hand and the makeshift warming wool blanket-shawl with the other, and turned back to Clark, only to find that the stop in motion was merely a momentary lapse as Clark had shut the barn door behind them. He instead found himself stumbling to catch up to Clark, who was confidently holding the lantern light ahead of them like a porter out in a storm, making great strides forward.

However, between the rain battering against the umbrella -- which had apparently decided to pick up yet again in the evening's gloom -- and the wind gusts' interference, as well as the ground having become one long stretch of sucking mud under his feet that was trying its best to thoroughly eat his shoes, Lex found himself unable to catch up or otherwise manage to push the umbrella's reach over his young friend's head. Not that Clark seemed to mind, or need it -- the rain might as well have given up on his account, because it could have been a warm and beautiful starry night, for all that Clark was being bothered by it.


An eternity later they finally reached the front porch, and Lex was flagging and almost fit to collapse. He really couldn't understand it -- the walk over from the Talon hadn't been nearly as bad as this, and this had been a much shorter distance and with far more protection against the elements. Clark stopped to shuck off his workboots, and Lex himself collapsed on the front porch swing to do the same. --Or at least he tried to, and missed, sitting down hard on the wood floor of the porch and banging his left shoulder and arm against said swing. It twisted wildly on an axis and out of the corner of his eye Lex saw the side of the seat swing around...

Clark grabbed the back of the swing before it managed to complete the motion and bash into the side of Lex's head. He lifted it up with one hand, securing it while unlooping the chain overhead, set that end down carefully, then did the same to the other end. The swing seemed to be resisting him somehow, jerking around before he finally got it flat.

"Sorry, I should've done that earlier when I first got home -- you ok?" Clark asked, squatting down next to him in his bare feet and running his fingers over Lex’s blanket-covered arm lightly, staring at it intently as though he could see straight through to the skin and bone.

Lex realized belatedly that the reason he'd missed the seat of the porch swing was because it had moved on him -- the wind had been strong enough to set anything dangling from a rope or chain to haphazardly swinging about: it wasn't just gusting now, the storm really had picked up quite a bit. And Clark had handled that basically one-handed. He looked up at Clark uncertainly. His friend finished his perusal, then looked Lex straight in the eye and cocked his head at him, before glancing down at his feet.

"Right," Clark said quietly, and he quickly pulled Lex's muddy and pretty much ruined shoes off of his feet and also stripped him of his dripping wet socks while he was at it, and somehow the loss of his socks seemed more of a broach of his personal space than the small precise slips and tugs used in the removal of his shoes, perhaps because the socks had seemed a mere afterthought. "Can you stand?" Clark tried again, standing himself and... Lex had expected Clark to give him a chance to raise his hands, pull him upright like earlier. Instead, Clark wrapped his hands around Lex's waist, lifted him, and literally set him on his feet. Like he had no weight to him at all.

...Maybe Clark hadn't waited because he'd had his own hands full with the blanket, and would've lost hold of it if he'd tried to get himself upright even with help. Clark was just being helpful, right? Helpful Clark.

Metal fatigue. Concrete-filled, smashed-open doors, magically found while-you-wait. Bruised ribs. Here-and-gone-again abilities. Scarecrows. Meteor rock. Helpful, helpful Clark. Strong, dependable, always-there-when-you-need-him Clark. But when you want him...? --Trustworthy, lying, deceitful Clark, who cared about others so much it hurt... who?

Lex shivered. Things were getting more and more surreal the more he tried to think, and he was so tired just then. He wasn't sure he wanted to think about it, even if he could string his thoughts together properly. Did he really have to?

"...Lex?" Clark queried, and Lex realized that it hadn't been the first time his name had been said.

"Right... yes... sorry, I-- uh..." Lex said slowly, blinking and trying to get his balance back. He managed the physical side of it at least, after disengaging one hand from clutching the blanket to steady himself against Clark's shoulder.

"Need a minute?" Clark smiled worriedly down at him.

"...Would you believe that I am not used to walking around barefoot?" Lex tried, a little weakly.

Clark laughed once and hugged him a little close, and Lex could almost feel the ghost of a smile, faintest brush of lips, or maybe it was just warm breath against the side of his head. Lex leaned into the hug and tried not to hate himself for needing it.

It really wasn't long enough before a bit of rain blew in, worse than the nearly continuous gusting, and caught them both upside the head. He shivered as Clark pulled away and sighed.

"Come on, you'll feel much better after a warm bath, ok? I promise," Clark said, scooping up the now-flickering lantern, unlocking the door, and stepping inside.

Lex nodded reluctantly and followed him indoors to a warm, safe refuge.

...At least, that's what he'd thought it would be.

Warmer certainly -- much warmer, with gas heat, and certainly a refuge from the wind and rain. But safe?

Clark's usual chatter was certainly disarming enough as backed in after Lex and pulled the door closed behind them, grabbed a flashlight for Lex from a table drawer on the right by the closet door, absently shoved it into Lex's hands, then turned towards the stairs and started going straight up without a backwards glance. However, Clark's candlelight had glinted off the inside gloom almost menacingly as the boy himself disappeared upstairs. Lex, ever aware of possible danger, turned his head and froze.

Lex stayed where he was by the door.

He slowly moved his hand upwards. And clicked on the flashlight.

And sent into stark illumination the Thing in the living room.

And all he could think for a little while was that it was a little too big to be a mantlepiece item, and it in no way matched the room's decór.

~*~*~*~*~*~

~*~*~*~*~*~

Clark was sitting on the stairs with the lantern by his side. The extra illumination really wasn't helping matters.

"That--" Lex started.

"Um," said Clark softly.

"That--" Lex tried again, not taking his eyes off of it.

"Er," said Clark.

"That--" Lex took a breath. He was almost afraid to look away. What if it attacked, or got more menacing, or... did something? Or even worse, disappeared?

"Well..." Clark said softly.

"That is--" He raised a finger to point at it. And could it do something besides sit there like a great big lump? He'd seen livelier paperweights.

...And clearly there was something wrong with him, because he was being disappointed by

"a spaceship," he finally managed to get out. "That is a ship from outer space."

"...Yes." Clark sounded a little pained at the admission.

"In your living room."

"Yes." Clark didn't sound much better the second time. It barely registered with Lex; he was on a roll.

"That is a ship that has flown through space and... --aliens. An alien spaceship. There are aliens, with spaceships, and... This ship--! An alien--" He had to take a breath before he passed out. He tore his gaze away from the ship to look at Clark, who was really, really pale. "You--! This is--"

"Lex, I--" Clark looked a little scared.

Lex looked back at the ship. "--incredible," he breathed. An alien had flown this ship through space to Earth, and Clark had found it! "So this is what you've been all secretive about?" he stated more than asked, gesturing at the ship, not taking his eyes off of it.

Clark made a strangled noise.

Lex assumed that was a yes. "Why is it in your living room? That seems like a really bad place to keep it." He felt so wired right now. Adrenaline was so much better than coffee and sleep.

"I don't know; that's not where it goes." And Clark sounded stuck somewhere in the realm between frustrated, angry, and unbelievably tired.

That caught Lex's attention. "...That's not where it goes?" he echoed, glancing between Clark and the alien spaceship.

"It's... not supposed to be there."

"Where is it supposed to be?" Lex asked before the thought had really coalesced properly.

"Not. There." Clark ground out.

And now Clark was being purposefully vague. Lex probably shouldn't be surprised. Clark obviously wasn't very happy with him right now, but it wasn't his fault, really, he'd just been in the right place at the wrong time -- or something along those lines -- and he wasn't sure he was even capable of feeling too down about it, anyway, because... wow. Just wow. He was geeking out so much right now, and he could just stand forever and stare, and he was feeling a little faint...

Suddenly Clark was at his side, holding him up by his arm, and when had he moved? "You need to go upstairs now," he said, flatly. Forcefully.

Lex blinked up at him. "But..."

He didn't have a chance to compose himself, because Clark immediately pressed the initiative, looming over him and stating commandingly like he never had before, "You are freezing cold and almost ready to fall over. You are taking that bath. Now."

Lex gave the spaceship one last glance and let himself be hauled upstairs sadly. He told himself that he was too tired to argue.

~*~*~*~*~*~


~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex was feeling much better.

Well, warmer anyway. He wasn't sure the "better" feeling would last.

He let out a deep breath, tilted his head back, and slid a little lower in the water, focusing on nothing in particular but the tactile sensations he was feeling while his thoughts floated about in a vague foggy daze. The sound of rainfall falling upon the roof and windows was muffled to an almost soothing sound, and he slowly relaxed in the encompassing warmth of the steaming-hot bathwater as it slowly cooled to merely lukewarm.

When even the lemon-scent -- from actual lemons, no less, that combined with the steam apparently was supposed to help with the sinuses and chest -- had nearly dissipated, he finally admitted that it was time to get out of the tub. Which was too bad, because he almost felt halfway to alive and well again. He sighed, pulled the plug, and then reached for one of many fluffy towels Clark had pulled out for him as he stood and stepped out of the tub.

He finished drying off by flickering candlelight and donned the clothes that Clark had found for him -- jeans that actually almost fit, a flannel shirt that was obviously Clark's. Warm wool socks, and a sweater just as comfortable. He didn't want to think about whose boxers these might belong to, though. He really hoped that they were an old pair of Clark's.

He picked up the small candle-lit lantern, took his time in carefully blowing out the rest of the candles that had been illuminating the room one-by-one, before finally opening the door. He stepped out into the hallway and let out a startled breath at the marked change in the humidity and warmth of the surrounding air hit his outer extremities. He nearly turned back around to reenter the far more comfortable bathroom, so he could close the door and slide down to sit on the floor with his back to a wall and just never move again -- it really had been easier to breathe in there, and he'd felt almost calm, despite...

But then Lex heard a faint whistling noise that rose then stopped and remembered that Clark had said something about hot chocolate when he'd brought in the clothing earlier. He weighed comfort and relative peace upstairs versus time with Clark downstairs, regardless of whether it might devolve into a fight, and, really, there was no choice to be made there at all. So Lex steeled himself, then step by tortured step he slowly made his way to the top of the staircase and down the stairs, one-by-one, keeping his eyes down and getting a sinking feeling as he went, a bone-tired numbness slowly sinking in, and paused at the landing, finally looking up, prepared for disappointment and...

The spaceship was still there.

Lex blinked.

He closed his eyes, breathed out and in, and opened them again. Looked.

The spaceship was still there.

Lex slowly straightened, eyes widening, and paused for a long, long moment breathing in, then turned and marched into the kitchen, where a dry Clark with slightly damp hair resided at the kitchen table -- he must've changed clothes at some point.

"The spaceship is still there," Lex announced, setting down the small lantern on the surface in front of him, before sitting down across the table from Clark with his back to the spaceship, bastion of self control that he was.

Clark looked at him, then handed him some hot chocolate.

Lex tried again, a little desperately. "Clark, the--"

"Yes, I know," Clark cut him off, sounding irritated. And he should know, he was glaring at the thing.

"But--"

"Did you want me to move it?" Clark asked, taking a sip of his own cocoa, still glaring over the rim into the living room at it.

"Well, no, but--"

"--and where would I move it to?"

"The basement?" Except there wasn't enough space down there, Lex knew. "Ok, maybe the attic?" At Clark's stare. "Well, yes, I probably would've heard you banging around if you had brought it up the stairs, but..." He searched around, trying to think of how to put into words what he wanted to say, and god, he must be tired for the effort that was taking him.

"But what?"

"Why didn't you move it?"

Clark looked exasperated. "Lex, you just said--"

"I know! I know, but," Lex sighed. "You aren't even trying."

Clark stared at him again.

"You could've... moved it out to the barn or something," Lex waved a hand vaguely, "cleaned up after, then said I was imagining things and denied it was ever in here."

"...What?" Clark said weakly.

"--I mean, sure, I would've been angry, and maybe wanted to strangle you or hit you over the head repeatedly or something, but I probably would've half-believed you if you'd done it, especially since I've already seen one other highly dubious unconfirmed thing earlier tonight, or maybe not, and that was before getting myself all chilled and dead-tired. It might've worked if you'd been really convincing, and --oh god, it didn't even occur to you, did it," he ended as Clark suddenly looked guilty as all hell.

Lex sighed. "...I mean, you could've at least thrown a blanket over it or something," he ended, finally sipping at his hot cocoa.

Clark murmured something unintelligible under his breath.

"What?" Lex asked.

"Nothing."

Lex raised his eyebrows and waited, taking another sip. The hot chocolate really was very good.

Clark grimaced down at his own cocoa, glanced up at the spaceship in the room, then away again. "If you..." he started slowly.

Lex waited.

Clark took a deep breath. "If you had seen a big blanket covering something in our living room, and hadn't known what was under it, would you have left it alone or... immediately looked under it?"

Lex thought about that a moment as he nursed his own cocoa. "...I'd probably would've looked under it," he admitted.

"Even if it looked like it belonged there? Like it was... a normal piece of furniture? Supposed to be there?"

"Maybe just a peek, but," he sighed ruefully. "Yes, most likely, if I had the chance to do so without it seeming rude."

"What if it was yours?"

"Clark, I think I'd know if I owned a space--" he stopped as Clark closed his eyes and looked ready to scream. Right. He dropped the sarcasm and tried to take the question for what he thought it was. "When I moved into the mansion, I knew what I had, what everything was, within a week. But if I'd had free run of the place instead of worrying about logistics, I probably would've gone room-by-room, tearing off all the sheets and looking at everything. It's just what you do." Isn't it?

Clark looked confused and frustrated for a moment before he regrouped and asked, "Even the attic?" and Lex realized he must've misinterpreted something. Lex wondered for a moment what Clark had really been trying to ask before he had seemed to mentally toss up his hands and go with it, but Lex was too tired to get into it just then. Maybe they'd get back to it later.

Right, so, yes. Where all had he checked that could be considered nonstandard locations? "Attic, all the basement rooms and sublevels -- yes, there are a few -- as well as the gardener’s shed, back garden, maze. Toured the whole grounds, actually. Looked over the staff house, too."

"Staff house?"

"The house where the mansion’s main caretakers, ah... where the Palmers used to live. They’d moved from Metropolis and gotten settled in before I’d arrived in Smallville and had a chance to survey the place myself, so I didn't exactly go through all their drawers," because even he knew that was beyond rude, "but I did check the general state of the house in case something needed updating, renovating, or fixing," he ruefully added, "...including the storm cellar."

Clark suddenly looked up at him, very intently. "Did you--?"

Lex told himself that he was a grown adult and had no reason to shift uncomfortably in front of his friend. "I... looked around. ...And may have glanced under some sheets --I've never seen one before, ok? I needed to stock the mansion basement with tornado supplies, and--" he really shouldn't feel a need to be justifying himself to a 14-year-old boy.

"You did it because it was there and you were curious." Clark said darkly, glancing down and setting his cocoa to the side.

"Yes," Lex said more tentatively than he meant to.

Clark folded his arms on the table and buried his head face-down in them. Lex was left wondering if he'd committed some horrible faux-pas.

"...Should I be apologizing to them for peeking?" Lex asked. Was it really that bad?

"No." Clark muffled voice replied from within his arms. "It's not..." He turned his head up to face him, and Lex realized from his expression that whatever this was, was something else. "It's just you, you're you. It's fine. You're fine."

Lex sighed a little and took another sip of cocoa, then frowned into his mug when he realized he couldn't because he didn't have any left. Clark noticed, straightened a little, and gestured for the mug. Lex handed it over, and in short order got back a full mug for his trouble.

They sat in silence for a while, then Lex finally asked, because he had to, "Where are your parents?" The spaceship hadn't eaten them, had it? It was a bit menacing and hypnotic and all, but not that menacing and hypnotic. Unless it was calmer because it had eaten... um... maybe he shouldn't have turned his back on it...?

"They're spending the night in Metropolis. They needed to go there to work out some of the C.E.P. stuff, paperwork, sign things. They heard about the storm, and decided they'd rather wait it out there than risk get caught in it coming back."

"You called them?"

Clark waved a hand at the fridge door, the note clipped to it with a small faded house-shaped magnet. "They left a note. I guess they checked the weather before they left earlier and made the decision then."

Lex felt slightly impressed. Clark must be out of the doghouse over the impromptu party-at-the-farm that hadn't even really been his fault. That was rather quick ...unless they had figured, rightly so, that the horrible inclement weather would simply make the possibility moot.

"...They moved it in here before they left. Didn't want to risk the C.E.P. guys poking around while they were away and finding it." Not much difficulty in determining what it referred to, there.

Lex's ears perked up at that. "They know about the spaceship?" He was having more than a little trouble wrapping his brain around the idea that Clark's fairly down-to-earth parents might have anything to do with spaceships and aliens. It had seemed unlikely that they were podpeople for the same reason.

...Ok, and maybe he'd read too much Warrior Angel and seen far too many bad 'aliens attack!' movies -- er, when he was younger, and hadn't known the difference between good sci-fi and bad sci-fi yet, ahem -- and he really needed to stop thinking about things like this. It was silly.

I mean, they'd probably had the spaceship since the meteor shower -- for years -- so if they were podpeople, it was probably far too late for the original Kents by now, and it wasn't like he could do anything about it.

He glanced down at his hot chocolate, eyeing it. Because this was maybe a little too much straight-up sugar for him on a mostly-empty stomach, after all. Just a tad.

He took another sip.

Clark rolled his eyes. "Yes, they know about the spaceship. Of course they know about the spaceship. They knew about it before I did," he ended in a dark mutter, hands curled around his own cocoa mug.

Oh. Lex blinked. "They knew about it before you did... and didn't tell you?" he said slowly, starting to put it together.

Clark nodded moodily.

And Clark obviously felt that he'd been entitled to know, or otherwise should've known...? --Ohhh. "They kept it under a blanket in the storm cellar, didn't they." A bath, a change into warm clothes, and sugary-chocolate calories apparently did beat out adrenaline for clear thought, after all.

Clark started slightly, glancing up at him and meeting his eyes full-on. He took a breath, then turned his head a little as he glanced away and grimaced a little as he let out a sigh and half-shrugged. "Tarp," he amended quietly. "Not blanket."

"When did you find out?" Lex breathed out. And how? he wanted to know, because Clark had not been startled enough coming back down the stairs to have been seeing it for the first time, of that much he was certain.

Clark shifted his shoulders and barely glanced up at Lex before looking away again. "You remember the bridge? The crash?" he asked quietly.

Yes, he... mostly... remembered that crash, but he could hardly believe Clark was bringing it up. This was not a breachable topic.

At least, not before today, and everything that had happened. But the boundaries were starting to blur...

Lex slowly nodded to indicate yes, and waited for Clark to continue.

"My dad told me that day."

Lex blinked. That... could explain why Clark had been on the bridge in the first place, staring down morosely at the water, not really paying attention to anything. That could explain why he'd been so shocky after pulling Lex out of his car... but... it didn't quite fit. What he remembered. What he took great pains not to think about most days, and only really mused on so dangerously in the midnight hours when he was too tired to stop himself, because entertaining such thoughts seriously in the full light of day was exactly the sort of thing that usually tended to lead to madness, of that much he was certain.

Right. Because believing his senses when they screamed "ALIEN SPACESHIP!!! RIGHT OVER THERE!!!" was so much more sane-making.

"Before?" Lex asked.

"After."

Lex started to take another sip of cocoa before that truly registered, then nearly choked on it. After?

"I got home and... we argued and... he brought me down to the storm cellar and pulled the tarp off and showed me."

After?? He set his mug down lightly and slowly with absolute and perfect control.

"I kind of freaked out," he grimaced. "Ran off. Went to Chloe, was thinking about telling her, but, I didn't get to it before she... introduced me to the Wall of Weird and..."

After?!? Who in their right mind would show someone a hidden spaceship after being traumatized like that? Lex had been dead, a dead body, and Clark had had to perform CPR on him to bring him back -- throwing a bloody car crash, dead bodies, and the frailty and mortality of men in a teenager's face did not occur without leaving the kid in question in a great deal of fear and panic, at best.

Jonathan should have been reassuring him, not compounding the shock. --Hell, even Lionel was more comforting after paralyzing emotional trauma that that! --when Lex had been younger. ...Or had it been some bizarre Kent coming-of-age thing -- save a questionable life, get told exactly why it was a bad idea to continue to associate with that highly inquisitive person? Still, what Jonathan had done was far worse, leaving Clark forcibly confronting the cruel nature of the real world at the ripe old age of 14: with nothing more debilitating a shock for Clark to weather than the especially-unremarkable fact that even Kent parents can, would, and did lie to their (adopted) kid.

"Yeah, I kind of freaked out and ran away from Chloe, too, before getting a word in edgewise with her." Clark grimaced and trailed off, closed his eyes.

And he had wondered why Clark had issues about lying and lies. Lex wanted to strangle Jonathan Kent. Never more than at this moment had he felt so purely homicidal on someone else's behalf. Who the hell had thought Jonathan was fit to raise a child, anyway?

He made a mental note to track down that adoption agency and have them put out of business. And get Clark's caseworker blacklisted, too.

...Maybe they had only met with Martha. But that would still mean they had been remiss in their duty, though, and was hardly an excuse!

...Of course, if the Kents hadn't adopted Clark, Lex probably never would have met him, so maybe he should actually be grateful for Clark's horrific, traumatic, and quite possibly mentally-scarring placement instead... not to mention that Lex probably would've stayed drowned inside the broken mess from the crash that was formerly his car...

That line of reasoning was beginning to make his head ache, so he tabled the determination of that proper, righteous, and meet vengeance for another time. Next on his list would be burning down Chloe's Wall of Weird and then calling Gabe, explaining the situation, and having her confined to her house until she was 18 because, despite being a rather good source of information all things meteor-related, it wasn't worth letting her run loose and flush things out if Clark was getting it all shoved in his face every day.

Knowing Clark, he was probably feeling a major amount of guilt over even being remotely associated with something that he probably believed had brought the meteor shower to earth in tow which had killed and injured so many people, and destroyed so many lives and livelihoods both directly and indirectly. Even if it had, then at worst maybe one could blame the pilot of the craft, but that was assuming that he, she, or it had had any control over the thing -- it looked more like an escape pod than anything highly maneuverable, at a twenty-seventh glance. It might not have even been properly functional prior to crash landing -- because from the fairly-deep gashes along the sides, he had no doubt that it had plowed a very deep furrow into the ground when it had come down.

"...Lex?"

Lex raised his head slightly and refocused on Clark. "Sorry, I just..." The rest of the discussion finished catching up with him, but then started to slowly slide away before he could quite grasp all the implications.

"You're not all here..." Clark said slowly, watching him with a careful, penetrating stare.

"What?" Lex blinked, straightening a little further.

"You're usually very..." Clark paused a minute, groping for words. He bit his lip absently then continued. "You're usually here. Very here. Wherever you are, you're there. You pay attention to everything around you, even when you're thinking things through; you look people in the eyes and still notice everything. You don't usually... tune out the world, or fade out yourself, exactly."

Lex blinked at him.

"I mean, I usually have to think hard in here sometimes," Clark tapped the side of his head, "and I look away because I can't concentrate out here as much at the same time," and Clark whirled a finger in a small gesture that encompassed the room. "And... and, um, I think maybe you've noticed that?" Clark blushed and Lex nodded, frowning, about to respond, but then Lex stopped and thought for a moment, suddenly feeling bone-deep fatigue as he dropped his increasingly heavy head a bit and staring down at the cocoa in the mug.

He had noticed that with Clark, although he'd always thought that had had more to do with Clark's self-esteem than anything else -- looking someone in the eye while talking about personal information was generally considered hard, but then again Clark didn't usually talk about really personal things with Lex, he just shared what he thought and felt, and sometimes his opinions, and it had always puzzled Lex that Clark felt so unsure when he did so, like he was embarrassed and seemed to expect Lex might say something horrible, belittle him or blow him off somehow, when he should know better than to think that of Lex after having already shared so many of his private thoughts with... with...

Oh, wait.

Oh.

Oh.

Oh god, had he really been horribly wrong in equating 'personal' with 'secrets' this whole time?

"--It's not just me. When Chloe does it? She sort of stares at things and moves around a lot, but it's not exactly like she's seeing what's there, she's usually seeing what's inside her head instead." Clark paused. "...And you're doing it again," he ended quietly. Lex's head snapped up, but Clark's expression was almost... gentle?

"I'm sorry Clark, I really am paying attention, I..." he trailed off. "I'm just a bit tired at the moment," he added tentatively, curling his fingers around his mug a little tighter.

"I know, it's just... it's not bad, just different. I don't think I've seen you being so... not as intense all the time? Before." Clark tilted his head at him and looked vaguely worried despite his attempt to soothe, though.

Lex smiled weakly.

"I think between today's earlier events and, well," he waved his hand behind him, "being confronted with that, perhaps a bit of fatigue is justified?"

Clark blinked and glanced between him and the spaceship for a moment, then a truly horrified look flashed across his face for a moment that morphed almost immediately into panic and guilt, and his mouth opened slightly for a moment as he was about to say something, then stalled out. Then Clark seemed to clamp down on his emotions as he refocused, stopped, and really looked at Lex for a moment.

"Are you... going to be ok?" Clark asked, finally, biting his lip nervously, searching his face.

Lex's eyebrows rose at the spectacle, and he was a little surprised that that, of all things, was what Clark had thought to ask. Though, he really shouldn't be surprised, he supposed -- Clark was consistent in this regard, his regard of him, at least. He gave Clark a tired smile and he surprised himself a little when a small chuckle escaped his lips. He shook his head slightly and said with a rueful half-smirk, "I'll live." He took another sip of his cocoa, watching Clark with half-shuttered eyes.

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"I--" Clark looked slightly confused, then sad before shaking his head once.

There was peaceable silence for a time.

"...Clark?"

Clark lifted his head.

"The hot water heater ought to have warmed its reserve up enough by now. You should go upstairs and take care of yourself, too, you know."

"Lex--" Clark protested uncomfortably.

"No, look, you need a warm shower -- no, bath," Lex revised, shaking his head slightly, "-- at least as much as I did."

"But--"

"Would it help if I promise not to do anything to the spaceship while you're upstairs?" Lex added quietly.

"It's not that--" Clark protested.

"Look, no touch -- I swear." He almost declared scout's honor, but that would have been a little too much, especially for him, and it wasn't as if he knew the correct handshake-signage.

Clark looked a little frustrated, then suddenly seemed to deflate. "...Ok."

"Ok?"

Clark nodded.

Lex wondered if he looked half as surprised as he felt.

~*~*~*~*~*~


~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex listened to Clark trudge up the stairs, and wondered how the young teenager managed to make it sound so obstinate. He smirked into his mug a little as he took another sip, and tried very, very hard to ignore the creeping, shivery feeling up his spine. He listened to Clark rattle around upstairs, doors opening and closing, pressurized water audibly running through the pipes up to the bathroom, and finally a final door pull, walking, and definite closure of a door, the sounds of movement now far muted from what they were before.

The shivery feeling moved from his chest out to his limbs as the frequency of the noises petered out, and he realized that he really was going to be by himself on the ground floor for an indeterminate period of time without interruption. He'd been left to his own devices in the general vicinity of a spacecraft of unknown alien origins without any supervision whatsoever, and trusted to conduct himself in a manner becoming of a sane, rational adult individual who was known to be able to satisfy rigid standards of proper comportment under any circumstances, no matter how strange or unexpected.

Clark had left him alone, in the same room with a spaceship, and expected him to... to... behave.

Was Clark out of his fucking mind?!?

...Well, he had made a promise, though.

Didn't say anything about staying out of trouble, though, Lex mused as he turned in his seat and stared over the back of the chair at the all-but-forgotten lump in front of the fireplace. He took another sip of his cocoa and started to smile. Then grin. Then had to stop because he was grinning so wide it almost hurt. He rubbed a hand across his lower jaw, trying to knead out the unfamiliar ache.

He bit his lip absently as he tried to think of what he could do to the thing that wouldn't involve touching it, with the objects at hand.

...Well, not touching it himself, anyway. Just looking, seeing things: like how it might react if…

...And maybe not involving breaking anything, taking anything else apart, or leaving some nasty stains on the living room rug. That wouldn’t do, making trouble for Clark almost immediately…

--Ok, maybe Clark knew what he was doing after all, because the ideas were coming so fast and furious that he couldn't decide where to begin, there was just too much to do and so many possibilities!

Lex took a deep breath and told himself that it was probably not a good sign that he was almost bouncing in his chair. He put his sugar-spiked beverage down on the kitchen table carefully and stood, fingers nearly white in a death grip on the back of the chair as he pushed himself up all at once, feeling a bit of a headrush.

He took a step, felt a sudden odd sensation of vertigo, and found himself fighting nausea.

When his surroundings finally stopped spinning, Lex realized he was in a partially-crumpled heap next to his chair, leaning against it for support with one arm sprawled across the seat, the other hand braced on the floor. His arms ached a bit, and his knees hurt, and he blearily looked down at the traitorous things for a moment. He had not given permission for his legs to give out on him, damnit.

...Wait, there's something wrong there. It took him a moment, and another moment before he figured it out.

He'd collapsed. He counted it up, and it was… the third time that evening: first time on the porch, second just inside the door -- except Clark had caught him then -- third just now... unless he counted by the car earlier as number zero, and in the barn by Clark when he'd panicked as zero-point-five. Although maybe those last two didn't have to be counted, because he'd only had a little trouble getting up either of those times, and oh dear god something was wrong with him, he was trying to talk himself out of counting up hits like a battered housewife. He paled and tried to shake off that entirely unwelcome thought as quickly as it had come upon him.

He sucked in a shaky breath and took stock of himself and tallied up the physical trauma. He’d been tasered by the Jude Royce lookalike and had still had mild shivers and spasms from that at the Club, though it had worn off by the time Clark had arrived and gotten him settled. He also doubted he’d been handled gently by him while being abducted and he certainly had been manhandled when being shoved into that straightjacket and hung from the ceiling; he’d been aching at the time. He’d taken a few blows to the head before Rothman had shot him down, and he’d dropped hard onto a hard floor. Then he’d taken another longer fall onto a none-too-soft old beaten-up couch trying to avoid gunfire. He’d had a full body ache going even through the buzz of adrenaline, which had slowly worsened during the ninety minute car drive back to Smallville, and he’d started to stiffen up. He’d been about ready to bow out and head home – get away from everyone, get some space to lick his wounds, take a few aspirin, get really damn drunk, and maybe call in a specialist for a deep tissue massage -- when he’d taken that header in the backroom of the Talon, too. Individually, none of those things were enough to do more than sneer at and brush off, but now after having finally tallied up everything in his head in a nice, neat row, he slowly began to realize why Clark had nonverbally indicated that he’d wanted him to go to the hospital earlier.

Now, on top of that, he had been laying unconscious on a cold hard floor for hours and stiffened even further; though the almost scalding hot bath had helped quite a bit, he really needed a professional to work over the knots and bruises before he started getting muscle spasms or worse. He’d also been out in the middle of a horrid freezing cold and blustery rainstorm, walked several miles through it with scant protection against the elements, then stayed in wet clothing for an indeterminate period of time and been chilled to the bone. Only recently had he warmed up a little and eaten -- well, drank -- something that even he could barely call 'substantial' for the first time in hours, and only under Clark’s eagle-eyed and rather pushy direction. Lex winced slightly at the last.

And Lex belatedly remembered that when he’d dropped on the porch he’d hit his arm. He shifted on the floor, curling his legs under him and straightening, leaning a little less against the chair and brought his arm towards his chest, rubbed carefully at it to lessen the ache from having hit it again just now. He’d be lucky if he wasn’t black and blue from head to foot tomorrow morning.

He wasn’t actually all that sure about how badly bruised he was, because he had been too out of it earlier upstairs to pay close attention and take stock of his injuries. He also realized that part of the reason he hadn’t thought through his physical state any earlier was because to do so he had needed to think about Rothman and everything that had happened, something that he had absolutely not wanted to mentally revisit ever again. Funny how the sudden development of aliens on Earth seemed to make that little concern seem so very silly and meaningless. …Well, he was facing it full-on now, wasn’t he?

And, of course, this was completely discounting all the mental knocks he’d taken, even in just the last twenty-four hours. Plus, aliens.

Lex resisted the urge to smack himself in the head, because he really didn’t need to finish off the evening with a full-blown concussion. Was it any wonder why he wasn't in top form? With the battering he'd taken and all the stress involved, he'd be lucky if he didn't end up sick, or wasn't already just that despite a killer immune system to the contrary.

He sneezed spontaneously, once, surprising himself, and then sniffed slightly. His head was starting to get that muzzy feeling again he'd felt earlier...

Oh, goddamn it!

Lex's eyes widened as he realized that this shouldn't have taken so long to work out, either.

...Perhaps I am not in the best frame of mind and state of body to be performing Science on anything right now, he realized with a grimace, glancing woefully at the spaceship, and the impatient feeling that accompanied that thought almost felt like a spiking pain in his chest.

Then he grimaced and rubbed the heel of his palm over his sternum as he realized that that hadn’t been a psychosomatic feeling, either.

Damn it all to hell! Lex cursed under his breath. He honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d been sick, and his childhood memories were vague though he’d supposedly had asthma for some time before he’d grown out of it. However, he had a suspicion that this was more than just a mild cold he’d managed to grant himself as an incubator for. He took a careful breath, as deeply as possible, and realized that it felt far different than earlier at his poor, ruined car, towards the end when he’d been marveling at his ability to breathe properly after his short-lived hysteria. His lungs didn’t feel quite as… full? There was also an odd hitching feeling in his diaphragm at the end.

So, whatever it was must have gotten into his lungs. He resisted a second urge to sneeze again, but doing so shortly had him shuddering and coughing instead. Upper and lower respiratory tract infection. Wonderful. And he had work tomorrow.

He glanced at the stairs and stifled another wince as he realized what Clark might say to that. Something starting with explosive disbelief at how Lex could even consider going in, then a few choice pointed remarks about needing to safeguard his own well-being, and some final-sounding judgment made for him underscored with undeniable common sense, no doubt.

It’d probably sound something like ‘What? You can’t possibly be thinking about going in! You’re sick! And you went through a horrible experience and need some time to recover, everyone will understand that. They should be able to survive a day without you having to come in and micromanage them, if you’ve been doing your job in getting the plant back in working order.’

…Well, ok, maybe he wouldn’t sound exactly like that, that was far too adult and up-front. …He supposed a more Clark-like thing to do would be to just huff a little and talk his staff into helpfully disappearing the alarm in his bedroom for him so he’d wake up too late to go in tomorrow, and top it off with calling Chloe’s dad in the early morning and talking Gabe into calling in sick for him and covering for the day, all behind his back.

…Ok, maybe not quite that either. Maybe some combination of the two, though. And he probably shouldn’t be getting warm feelings from the idea that Clark might be perfectly willing to go out of his way to blatantly sabotage Lex like that.

It would probably be a good waste of effort and energy to go through all that with him, so I might as well take tomorrow off, Lex decided. Though, now he was a bit curious to know what Clark would actually do if he thought otherwise…

He thought of calling in at the plant to let them know now before he changed his mind – they had the security staff and a night secretary, someone would be available – and reached for his cellphone.

And he felt confused for a moment as his hand slid across soft cotton batting.

He stared down at the too-large, warm cardigan sweater and remembered that he was wearing borrowed clothing.

Then he glanced around for his jacket. Clark had picked it up from the bathroom earlier.

He frowned as he realized he couldn’t see anything from his seated position on the floor, braced both hands on the chair seat, and slowly pushed himself to a kneeling, then a standing position with a grimace.

He swayed slightly, but this time stayed upright.

…He was reminded again that he was ill, and should be taking it easy. So, first order of business: find his phone. Call in sick. Then take care of himself a little and rest.

He swallowed as his stomach clenched slightly for a moment and he felt a faint lightness in his head. He supposed that included getting himself something more substantial to eat. He glanced at the stairs but he doubted Clark would be coming down for awhile. He hoped that it would be all right if he just helped himself to something from the fridge; historically, the Kents had always offered him food when he visited. Well, at least Mrs. Kent did, with Clark giving him puppy eyes whenever he looked like he might be considering saying ‘no’ in as polite a manner as possible.

Glancing around the kitchen, Lex didn’t see it. He grabbed up the candle-lit lantern he’d brought down from the bathroom -- which Clark had left him upon taking back the flashlight he had handed Lex, after force-marching him up the staircase earlier -- from the table where he’d left it. Then he slowly moved away from the bracing chair and cautiously focused on keeping himself up and moving, and not dropping said burning candlelight holder. He moved into the living room, past the back of the couch, trying to ignore the spacecraft and being only partially successful. He finally spotted his jacket hanging carefully off of two coathooks near the door, spread out to facilitate its drying, he assumed. He set down the small lantern on a nearby table, then lifted the side of his jacket and slid his hand into the rather damp breast pocket. Then he frowned.

His cellphone wasn’t there.

What the hell?

Eyes narrowed with suspicion, Lex lifted the jacket off and over, and searched the pocket more thoroughly. Nothing. …In fact, there was nothing in any of the pockets, upon further inspection.

Lex gritted his teeth, hung his jacket back up, and tried not to feel violated somehow. In a sense, it was silly to feel that way, he knew – he wasn’t some Victorian-era, frail, fainting girl type who would be one to screech about vile men taking liberties with her person, or her things, but that was about as close as he could come to describing the sensation he was feeling just then.

He was even less amused when, after picking the lantern back up and sweeping both its light and his gaze over the nearby tables he didn’t see any of his things, either, nor inside any of the closest drawers after he lost his temper enough to start sliding a few open and rifling through them to look.

He silently slid the final drawer closed with a subvocal growl and fumed. He didn’t know what kind of game Clark was playing here, but when he got back downstairs…

Well, fine. He could always use the house phone, instead. He strode back to the kitchen, ignoring the slight dizziness he felt at moving a little too fast, set the lantern back down on the kitchen table with a solid thump, turned in place, and reached out to pick up the phone.

Holding it to his ear, he heard a dial tone, and got a thin mean smile. Clark hadn’t cut him off from all his immediate resources, if he hadn’t unplugged and hidden the means to access a working phone line.

He held his fingers up to press the buttons to call the plant, and then the mansion for a ride home, but then paused as he realized that he was having trouble remembering the nighttime number for the plant. He glanced down, thinking… and then paused, feeling ashamed.

He stepped to the side slightly, so not to be looking at things obscured in his own shadow, but there was enough light from the other candles lit in the room to have already made it clear. On top of the small bookshelf, under the phone, all of his things had been carefully laid out to dry. Cellphone, wallet – open, with soaking wet bills and credit cards spread out – and car keys, house keys, handkerchief, and all other manner of assorted odds-and-ends; a few of them were from his pants pockets, as well. Everything was there, he realized, touching things one by one and shifting a few others aside absently; nothing was missing.

He quietly put the phone back on the receiver with a soft click.

He felt horrible. Why had he jumped to such a conclusion, and so quickly? Clark wasn’t like that.

He generally doesn’t go through your pockets when you’re not looking, either, a small voice said, but he squashed it. That was just wrong. There was no reason for Clark to do that. There was nothing to look for; why would he be searching for something, and what for?

Lex scooped up his cellphone and snapped it open. He sighed at the dark screen and hit the power button. Then he frowned as he got no response. With a sinking feeling, he turned it over and opened the back panel and slid out the battery. It felt damp, and upon closer inspection closer to the lantern light, he could see a thin film of water inside the compartment.

How lovely, he thought darkly, as he pulled away from the source of light. Stupid weather; how had people managed before coats and umbrellas, besides possibly not carrying around any portable items to ruin? He shook his head, and set both battery and phone back down on top of the bookshelf with his other things. That made two, or maybe three of the small electronic devices he’d been carrying dead due to water, now, if he counted the car remote as possibly malfunctioning along with the miniature flashlight. Then he felt a bolt of sheer panic and he dropped the phone in parts back onto the counter before frantically sliding the sweater and flannel shirtsleeves up his arm, checking his mother’s watch.

Oh thank god, Lex breathed, watching the second hand move across the face with its usual tick-tick-ticking motion. He’d not checked it earlier upstairs, either before or after the bath. If it hadn’t been working…

He collapsed slightly against the table behind his back, letting out a breath in relief. Then something occurred to him and he glanced down at his watch again and tilted it’s face towards the candlelight, this time paying more careful attention to the time.

Dear god, it’s that late already? Lex realized. If he could remember the proper nighttime plant number, he could have called there, but the day number routed to the plant manager’s phone at night, and his calling in sick for tomorrow wasn’t an emergency that required Gabe’s attention. Calling the mansion to send someone for him would probably involve waking up the entire household at this point, and he belatedly remembered his earlier line of reasoning on why he hadn’t asked for them to do that before. Nothing had really changed enough to warrant him having changed his mind, he wasn’t ‘trapped’ here and needing an escape route, so to speak, and without a proper justification...

He supposed that he could call the main office in Metropolis and have them take care of passing the message along at the proper time, but he didn’t like bringing the main branch into things that he considered an internal plant affair. Calling them for the directory search would bring nearly the same result, and alert the same people, with similar consequences.

He leaned his head back and then quickly brought it down level again when that immediately gave him vertigo. He shivered and passed a hand across his face, rubbing his eyes.

Right, he supposed he could wait to call out. What had been the next thing to do?

Lex shakily slid upright and moved over to the refrigerator. After opening it, realizing that the electricity was still off, retrieving the lantern so he could actually see what he was doing, and puttering through it, he found a Tupperware container full of what looked like homemade chicken soup, which he slid out onto the counter, and he pulled out a gallon of milk for good measure. ...With the power still out, it would just go bad anyway if not consumed, after all. Right?

He felt annoyed as his arms shook slightly after even that small exertion and realized exactly how low on energy he was. He shut the fridge door behind him, then went looking for a bowl and ladle. To his surprise it didn’t take long – apparently he knew the layout of this kitchen better than the one at the mansion. …Although, considering how militant the new cook was about people entering her domain and mucking about, maybe he shouldn’t be. He’d been more or less chased out a few times by her, and he knew better than to annoy the people making his meals, so he had stopped trying to explore on his own. Clark was a good distraction for her when he showed up for deliveries, but they generally didn’t hang out in the mansion’s kitchen all that often.

After spooning himself out a good portion and popping it in the microwave – he was so glad that the Kents had gotten one of those recently – he pulled open a cabinet door and reached for a glass before pausing contemplatively and pulling out a large mug instead. Then, as he took a moment to set the time on the microwave, and realized that the keypad wasn’t responding to his inputs, he mentally kicked himself -- no power meant no microwave, of course.

He rummaged about for two pots, and, once found, he placed them both on the stove, and dumped the bowl into the larger of the pots. He turned the knobs on the stove -- grateful that he Kents has a gas stove, not an electric one -- and watched the burner catch. Once he had that going, he poured some of the milk into the second, smaller saucepan, smirking to himself. He knew that the tryptophan in warm milk was supposed to be good relaxant, converting into a small amount of sleep-inducing serotonin and melatonin in the body, and he could really use something to help his mind settle at the moment. He put the milk on a much lower heat, and went looking for wooden spoons.

At this point, he was starting to feel dizzy again, so he pulled over a chair to sit down in for a bit, grimacing at himself, yet knowing that he really shouldn’t be pushing his limits just then. Periodically he got up and stirred the pots. Once the soup was bubbling, he turned off the heat and carefully picked the pot up by the handle, turned it sideways, and poured the soup back into the bowl. He glanced over at the saucepan with the milk, and hesitated for only a few seconds before determining that it was warm enough as it was, taking it off the heat before it began to simmer.

He performed a similar maneuver with the saucepan and milk, but only filled the mug halfway. Not knowing the temperature, he tried the milk first, testing, and winced. He set the saucepan down, and ended up topping off the mug with more of the cooler milk from the gallon jug. That done, he slid open a drawer and selected a spoon, pushed the chair back closer to the table, and sat down with the soup, digging in. When he got thirsty, he remembered to retrieve the mug from the counter and, taking a sip, frowned at the temperature differentials and had to take another moment to find a knife to stir the liquid into a more homogeneously distributed temperature.

The warm meal helped quite a bit, he realized only after he stopped his intermittent shivering. He slid his hands across his face and felt more than a little foolish. He wasn’t even able to read his own body state properly at the moment. He decided that he really, really hated being sick.

He spooned himself out another bowl of soup into the pot, poured himself the rest of the milk from the saucepan, and curled his cold hands around the now-warm mug while he waited for it to heat on the stove again. After the second bowl, he was feeling significantly more relaxed and warm throughout, and he finished off the last of his milk with a sigh and put everything away – soup Tupperware closed and back in the fridge, milk too after refilling his mug as an impromptu measuring cup and emptying it into the saucepan, dirty dishes in the sink under water.

Lex put the saucepan back on the stove for heating the new serving and turned to face the rest of the room. He glanced back at the spaceship – still there, hadn’t gone anywhere – and then his eyes slid back over to his cellphone… and lit on the little built-in camera.

Now that would be a reason to go searching for your phone – make sure there could be no photographic evidence, that damn little voice piped back up again.

Lex gritted his teeth. That was a stupid thought, and he had no reason to think that. He could have just as easily called in all sorts of people to come and grab the spaceship, and he wouldn’t have needed to give a reason why they needed to come and with what resources, he could have just told them to come, period. Clark hadn’t disconnected the landline; that should be proof enough of his intentions.

But your things were awfully far away from your jacket; how did they end up all the way over in the kitchen?

Probably because Clark carried them over with him when he started the hot water going for the hot chocolate. …Despite the fact that it probably would have been easier to just lay things out by the door near where his jacket hung.

No, he decided, there was nothing sinister there. And any too-damn-paranoid part of me that might think otherwise can just shut the hell up.

…Though, why shouldn’t he call someone to come and retrieve the spacecraft for him? It was a real find and--

What the hell am I doing?!? Lex realized with a start, pulling back from the phone as if it were on fire and clutching his hand to his chest. His back hit the counter behind him, rattling the pan on the stove, and he gratefully grabbed the saucepan and spoon to give himself something to do with his hands. He took care of that, and the cleanup, with as much of his full focus as he could, then grabbed his refilled mug and backed away slowly into the living room with it, away from the phone.

It wasn’t his. The spaceship simply wasn’t his, to do anything he wanted with, and he didn’t know the situation. They’d kept the damn thing a secret for what was fast approaching twelve years now – assuming it came down with the meteor shower that took your hair – and nothing had gone wrong – that you know about – and waiting a bit to get a better read on the situation would not kill him – unless the Kents don’t like the idea of you knowing, and they decide no-one will miss you, or ever suspect...

He resolutely walked himself over to the end of the couch closest to the door and the staircase and sat down. Then he put the mug down and snagged a blanket, wrapping it around himself before picking his mug back up again, curling his legs under him, and trying to stop shaking.

I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into, Lex realized. What the hell do I do?

…Well, a good first step would probably be to stop panicking and start using your brain. Idiot.

He took a deep draught of the almost too-warm milk, then leaned back hard into the couch and shuttered his eyes.

The problem with thinking, though, was that his attention was currently split between all of the things he wanted to do to the spacecraft, and all of the feelings of paranoia that were screaming at him to run like hell, and he’d already gone down several false lines of reasoning just within the last few minutes. He wasn’t sure if being sick had impacted him more, or all his banging about that day, or just the strange shadows being cast by the flickering candlelight and lack of electricity that reminded him of nothing more than a horror movie setting that absolutely must go wrong, but the original cause of it was not nearly so important as its impact on his thought processes.

So do nothing. Observe. Gather data, and force yourself to wait to evaluate it once you’re feeling better and up to the task. Risk nothing, for now.

Ok. He could do that. Probably. He finished his mug and set it on the table, then pulled the blankets in about his shoulders a bit more.

The decision to essentially ‘hurry up and wait’ having been made, he felt marginally calmer, and was able to relax back into the couch a bit more. Without feeling so restricted by trying to determine what he had to do right then, he was finally able to let his thoughts drift and mused with very little tension now over the things he wanted to test: light refraction, heat and electrical conduction, hardness, surface roughness, and then advanced imaging techniques to map the interior and exterior, just as a start before even thinking about taking samples or trying to crack it open.

Then he started trying to tally the fastest and safest ad-hoc alternative methods for how to test them: the view of flashlight beams under colored lenses and through glass prisms, reactions to matches and candles, or battery wiring, the resistance to an edge of steel or diamond, the friction or stickiness of the flow of flour or water or sand over the surfaces, measurements of the gouges and pencil rubbings of the etchings, pull it up in chains and weigh it, maybe do some water displacement tests for density.

He had a sinking feeling that the latter list might become necessary, because he was doubtful of his ability to convince the Kents to let the thing out of their sight, let alone off their property. If he couldn’t even manage that, then it would undoubtedly be nearly impossible to convince them to let him bring in advanced equipment either, because that might draw unwanted attention.

He thought about the contents of the kitchen and wondered if he could get away with experimenting around a little, starting early. Clark couldn’t really expect him not to poke and prod the thing now that he’d seen it, could he? …Though it had been by accident –but still! It was right there, and it would be so easy. And he really wouldn’t have to touch it, technically, it would just be other substances and… he was doing it again. He rubbed at his eyes and tried not to groan. He’d just decided that he wouldn’t do anything until after talking with Clark, and he’d already made a promise to him earlier that--

With a slight start, he realized what he’d really been about to do right before he’d collapsed in the kitchen – he’d sworn not to touch anything while Clark was absent from the room, but just prior he’d said something to imply that meant that he wouldn’t do anything as well, a far more restrictive vow than he’d originally intended to make to Clark at the time. Lex made it a point to keep his promises, and not just to the letter of them. He groaned and ran a hand over his head as he realized that he’d nearly broken his word to a friend due to his greed for knowledge.

He had nearly unwittingly trampled over Clark’s friendship and trust in the course of getting what he wanted. He understood now that he’d been so excited that he’d been ready to say or do damn near anything in order to convince Clark to let him have a chance to be alone with the ship for a little while. And, to his dismay, upon reflection he couldn’t remember at the time caring much what he was saying in order to do just that. And that was… unforgiveable.

Lex pulled the blanket closer shakily, then his breath caught on what was supposed to be a deeper breath and he coughed weakly a few times. He wondered what dire straits he must be in that he ought to be grateful to be suffering from a cold nasty enough to slow him down.

He absently wondered if the Kents had conducted any of their own tests on the craft.

…Then he spent a few minutes trying to choke down laughter, which nearly morphed into another weak coughing jag.

All right, humor aside, he hoped that close proximity to the thing wasn’t toxic, radioactive, or otherwise lethal. If he assumed correctly, it had been on the farm for years, so he doubted it was or it would have impacted their produce and possibly poisoned the water table, or otherwise hurt the Kents and they all seemed healthy enough. He wasn’t sure that they would have thought far enough ahead to handle it with gloves, and even if they had, most types of chemicals would easily soak through leather. …No, it was probably ‘safe’ enough so long as it was inactive.

…Assuming it was inactive. Taking twelve years to build up to an explosion of some sort seemed a bit unlikely. Even cascading system failures would probably have collapsed and set something off long before now. Breaking it open without an idea of its innards would probably be a bad idea, though, if it had an isolated power source that could power spaceflight that was malfunctioning.

Though, for some reason, Lex got the feeling that it wasn’t broken. It didn’t seem dead, just… resting? And watching. Was it locked down and on standby, waiting for someone to turn it on? …Did it turn on? How did it turn on?

The thing really did look like an escape pod, or some sort of odd egg. Or maybe it was a seed. Lex cocked his head sideways slightly for a moment and tried to imagine it planted in the ground. Could it grow a metallic tree? A metallic alien tree? Or two, or three?

Was it alive and sentient itself? Was it possible that the ship itself was the alien, rather than a mere carrier of such foreign unearthly creatures?

And what the heck did the aliens look like?

Lex rubbed his forehead and wondered why he felt so cold. Was it himself, or was it the room temperature? Could the alien ship be sucking up the heat? It was in the way of the fireplace, so he wouldn’t be able to light one until Clark came downstairs, because doing so would involve first shoving the spaceship out of the way, and that would involve touching it.

There were too many what-ifs. He really needed to know what Clark and the elder Kents knew about it – where it came from, how they got it, and what they had seen when it came down.

…And yes, he was probably assuming a lot here, but upon reflection, worrying about the elder Kents’ reaction to his accidental induction into the role of fellow secret-keeper probably did not merit much time or energy. Clark had actually taken it all rather well earlier, considering -- almost in stride -- other than being highly annoyed with him… and the ship… but mostly the ship, and Lex had no reason to assume that he would feel differently later. And, considering Clark’s protectiveness of his person, which had lessened not at all, if his behavior both in the barn and in the house had been any indication, he doubted that his parents would do anything drastic to which Clark would be so thoroughly opposed.

Otherwise… well, otherwise he was, quite frankly, screwed, because he doubted that anything in this world could stop the Kents if they felt truly threatened. Hiding behind his security staff would probably only buy him a little extra time. This, of course, assumed that the raging Kent leading the charge was Mr. Kent, and not Mrs.Kent. He doubted he’d stand a chance against another redhead, and especially not her. Hell, she could probably lure him out of the mansion with the promise of pie and a smile of forgiveness, and he’d fall right into the trap. Knowing her, the pie might even be worth walking into it willingly, he mused ruefully, punctuated with a soft sigh.

When it came right down to it, either they would or they wouldn’t have a problem with him knowing, and there was probably nothing he could do about that. All he could hope for was that he’d have two-out-of-three in favor of a sane response, and that that would be enough to drown out the vocal, bitterly hateful third.

It finally occurred to Lex that despite all the warm comfort food, his bone-deep fatigue, the perfectly-functional cushioned couch, and the soft thick quilted blanket, he still wasn’t able to relax enough to wind down and rest. His brain just would not let go of the fact of the spaceship’s existence and the idea of aliens on Earth, and he couldn’t keep his eyes closed for more than a few seconds at a time. He tilted his head into the armrest and wondered if trying to lay out flat instead of half-sitting up might help, as he blinked lazily at the ship.

Maybe he should think about getting home after all. It was possible that Lionel might be looking for him, he supposed. Was he supposed to be coming in to town that weekend? Lex couldn’t remember, but…

Without warning, a firm strong hand came down on Lex’s shoulder.

What-- Dad?!?

Lex stifled a yelp and stiffened, and his head whipped around and up so fast that he had trouble focusing his eyes for a moment. Then his vision cleared at the same time that he realized that the touch had been gentle, far too gentle to be confused with Lionel’s steely grip, and Clark was looking down at him with a worried frown as Lex gasped in a few breaths and drooped back into a more relaxed posture in sheer, utter relief.

“Are you ok?”

Lex nodded. “I, ah, didn’t hear you come down.”

“Sorry.”

“No, no, that’s…” Lex waved it off with a blanket-covered arm. “That’s…” Fine tremors ran through him as his mind caught up with the implications of his confused mistake, and he resolutely tried desperate-hard not to think of what might happen if his father had been the one behind him. If he had seen the spaceship.

Lex felt the blood drain out of his face.

But, as he failed to push Lionel from his thoughts, it also slowly dawned on him that he honestly had no idea what Lionel would do. Nothing Lex could come up with seemed even remotely realistic. All he knew, with a feeling of utter certainty akin to knowing that the sun rises in the east, was that whatever it was would be bad. Very, very bad. And the Kents would be caught in the middle of it. Lex could almost see Lionel’s face, the look of pure want, morphing into the smug satisfaction of knowing that he would be able to obtain it, no matter the cost, human or otherwise. Lex realized with a sick feeling that whatever would need to be done to the Kents to ensure it would more than likely only sweeten it for Lionel. No love was lost between either of their families.

Then Lex was reminded of his own greed, his own earlier response, and he started to shake even harder.

“Lex? What? –Lex??

~*~*~*~*~*~


~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex was pretty happy with this development. Clark was sitting on the couch with him, curled up in the corner. Lex was sitting in his lap, with Clark’s arms around him, and their legs were tangled together with the blanket over them both. Clark was quite warm, and it felt rather nice being held up against him like this.

Of course, Lex was apparently quite warm, as well.

“103,” Clark said grimly, reading off the thermometer, then shaking it with light, quick snaps before setting it down on the coffee table, along with the flashlight he’d used to illuminate it.

“There should be a law against somebody feeling so cold when they’re not,” Lex grumbled.

“I really don’t think that’d do any good, Lex,” Clark said evenly.

Lex started to talk, then coughed a few times again. Clark rubbed circles on his back until he stopped, which was also nice. Lex leaned into him a little more, and slid down his chest a little with a sigh, shuttering his eyes.

“How long have you been coughing?” Clark asked.

Lex burrowed into Clark’s chest a little more, not responding.

“Lex?”

“I’m not sure,” he said quietly. “A little after I collapsed…” He belatedly realized that—

“You collapsed?

--it probably would have been better to have kept that to himself. “Maybe a little.”

“How do you collapse a little?” Lex could almost hear Clark’s eyes narrowing.

“Caught myself on the chair on the way down; my head never hit the floor.”

“Lex…” Clark said with no small amount of consternation. “You… Are you…” Then he sighed. “When was the last time you ate—?”

“I got something to eat,” Lex said.

“Besides the hot chocolate, I mean. That doesn’t count.”

“I had soup and warm milk.”

“When?” and Lex could hear Clark’s frown in his voice.

“A little while ago. While you were upstairs.” Lex shifted and curled into Clark a little more before continuing. “Is that… was that…?” he asked tentatively, because god knew whether that was something socially unacceptable or not in this household.

“Lex, you don’t need an open invitation to eat anything here, even when you aren’t sick, ok?” Clark chided. “Heck, Mom would be ecstatic if you took us up on it. She thinks you’re too skinny.” Lex relaxed again. “Was it the chicken noodle?”

“Yes. …I had two bowls,” he added as an afterthought.

“Good,” Clark said firmly. “What other symptoms do you have, besides the fever and the cough?”

Lex was glad Clark didn’t include the collapsing bit out loud, even if it was obvious that he’d mentally tacked it on to the end of the list. “My lung capacity’s diminished.”

“Anything else?” Clark said, and it sounded like he was thinking hard.

“I’m not sure,” Lex sighed softly. “I didn’t exactly have a tame day today.” He thought for a moment. “I’m tired and aching, but that could just be from everything with Rothman, and then the long walk through bad weather. I… did have a little chest pain earlier, and I sneezed once before that.”

Clark let out a long breath, then finally said, after awhile, “You might have pneumonia.”

Lex grumbled to himself. He knew what that was. It was just his luck that he’d come down with something that would take advantage of his weaker lungs. It would’ve been nice if the meteors had picked some other day to apparently revoke his ‘doesn’t get sick anymore’ card on him.

“I suppose I really am sick, then,” he muttered.

“Yes,” Clark replied, hugging him a little in an attempt to try and make him feel better, no doubt.

“Stupid pneumonia,” Lex grumbled. He felt Clark let out a small silent rush of air – a laugh? – and rubbed his arm up and down in a conciliatory gesture.

There was silence for a time, and Lex slowly felt warmer and overall better. He blamed that on Clark, really. After some indeterminate period, though, Lex remembered what he’d wondered earlier, that was maybe a bad idea to ask. But he really wanted to know, and all he had to do was…

…well, it was official: curiosity was going to be his downfall. “Clark?”

“Hm?”

“What would you do if I said I was going in to work tomorrow?”

Clark pulled back a little and shifted to face Lex, frowning down at him. “You are not going in to work tomorrow,” he declared firmly.

“But—“

“You’re sick!”

Lex smiled slightly. He couldn’t help it. “Clark—“

“--can’t believe you’d even think of—“

“I’m not going in,” Lex interrupted, relenting before things got bad. Clark gave him a disbelieving glare. “I’m not, really.”

“…Good,” Clark said after awhile, then pulled him back and hugged him against his chest again. That really did feel nice. Lex pushed his luck again.

“But, if I did…”

“Lex,” Clark all but growled down at him.

“It’s just hypothetical,” Lex mumbled quickly. “I’m just wondering what you’d do if you thought I might. That’s all.”

Clark seemed to be turning that over in his head. He could practically hear the judgmental nature of those thoughts, even. Something like: Is he lying to me or telling the truth? Do I trust what he said?

“Really not going in to work tomorrow. I’ll call Gabe and leave a message tonight if it’ll help convince you,” Lex grumbled.

“It’s a little late to call—“ Clark paused as the implications caught up to him. “Wait, you really mean that?”

Lex nodded against his chest.

“Oh. Well, good.” And he could almost feel Clark brighten as the tension against his cheek melted away under a more relaxed rise-and-fall.

“Clark?” Lex poked him gently with a finger. He hadn’t gotten his answer yet.

Clark paused for a moment, then laughed slightly as he realized what Lex wanted. “Oh, right! Well, that’s easy. I’d just sic mom on you,” Clark ended matter-of-factly.

Lex blinked.

“Ah, well,” Lex dissembled, suddenly feeling a little out of his depth, “how would she stop me? She’s not here.” Hell, she wouldn’t even know about any of it until after Clark’s parents had both gotten back the next afternoon, far too late and well after the fact.

“I’d call her up and have her yell at you,” Clark grinned. Lex twisted away a little and stared up in disbelief. “They left the number for the hotel they were going to stay at in the note on the fridge.”

Lex frowned and opened his mouth to retort, but Clark shook his head and cut him off. “What, you think she couldn’t make you take the day off?” his friend said with no small amusement.

Lex opened and closed his mouth a few times before snapping it shut. Then he favored Clark with a glare. “That’s not fair,” he said, before realizing how inane that must have sounded.

“Neither is you having to go in tomorrow after everything today,” Clark shot right back, taking him perfectly seriously.

Lex gave up. He knew when he was outmaneuvered, and it wasn’t like he was trying to win anything. He reminded himself that he’d already decided not to go in to work tomorrow, that this was not a challenge and there was no reason to feel so stubborn and like he had something to prove all of a sudden. He dropped his head against Clark’s chest again, tucked himself under Clark’s chin, and burrowed into him a little. Clark let him. Then he curled his arms around Lex a little more, squirmed slightly, and then relaxed even further into the side of the couch, slowly pulling Lex back with him.

Lex closed his eyes and he let out his breath in a very soft sigh as Clark’s warmth slowly sank into him. His fingers twitched slightly as he had the sudden urge to reach up and run his fingers through Clark’s hair. His really nice, silky hair. He curled his fingers into Clark’s soft flannel shirt instead, and slowly took as deep a breath as he could manage at the moment without wincing and felt the tension ease out of his limbs as he breathed out. After a few minutes of this he felt like he must resemble a pool of jelly.

It was quiet, broken only by the soft muffled rainfall. Serene. The only thing breaking the perfection of the moment was… the spacecraft sitting there on the other side of his eyelids, which probably should be bothering him, but it wasn’t. …Well, not in the way he’d expected. This was a private moment and not something he’d want to do in front of anything or anyone, and he had the sudden urge to tell it to get lost.

He opened his eyes and realized that he hadn’t actually been consciously thinking about the thing at all for at least a few-minute stretch, this time.

He highly doubted that he was going to doze off in front of it, though, despite how comfortable Clark was. That didn’t seem to have changed in the last… hour or so. He’d felt even more tired earlier and been completely unable to do so then, and that wasn’t going to change anytime soon, he realized. He really needed to get home and physically away from the thing so he could get some sleep. The thought sent a bolt of dissatisfaction through his frame, though, because the last thing he wanted to do right then was move.

“What’s wrong?” and Clark started to gently rub his back; he must’ve sensed something was the matter. That just made everything vaguely worse, and the decision so much harder.

“I should go…” Lex finally managed to say.

“…Go?” came the puzzled reply.

“I should go home.” Was this really a difficult concept?

“Why?”

Lex squeezed his eyes shut. Apparently, it was. “I need rest.”

“You can’t stay the night here?” Clark asked, sounding a little… odd.

“Clark, I can’t spend the night on the couch. I won’t be able to fall asleep.” Not to mention that I’m probably going to feel like hell even if I manage to fall asleep in a comfortable bed. He glared a little at the spaceship as Clark shifted. It felt like he followed his gaze and Lex could almost feel him start as he made the connection.

“Lex, you don’t have to sleep on the couch! I mean, I don’t want you to,” he dissembled a little bit.

Lex processed this, frowning. “Clark, I’m not kicking you out of your own room.”

“It’s fine,” Clark said, but Lex felt hitching tension in his friend.

“You… you wouldn’t be able to fall asleep staring it in the face, either; can you?” Lex realized with a sudden flash of insight, pulling away and sitting up straight. No wonder Clark had been able to understand Lex right away.

With his hands on Clark upper arms, he felt Clark wince under him. With that confirmation received, Lex set his jaw. “I’m going home, all right?” he said, his tone making it not a question.

“No, you’re not.”

Lex sucked in a breath all at once. That came across like… --Clark couldn’t have meant that the way it sounded. Like… an order… Like he had no choice.

Lex went still and he was suddenly highly aware of the fact that his cellphone wasn’t working, the landline was connected to the kitchen wall on the other side of the house, and Clark was larger than him, had demonstrated earlier on the porch exactly how much stronger he was, and was very close by. His paranoia screamed at him, and it was a real struggle to stay calm and relaxed. For the first time ever, he had to work to remind himself that Clark was his friend and would not physically force him to do something he did not want to do. He simply was not that sort of person.

“I don’t have the truck, you don’t have a car. You are not walking home in that,” Clark added quietly, waving his hand back at the window, and it helped take the edge off, but only slightly.

“I can—“

“What, hail down a taxicab?” Clark added sarcastically.

Lex was about to argue that yes, he could get one… up until he remembered that this was Smallville and they didn’t even have a taxi service within the town limits that he could call. The nearest was located in Metropolis.

“I’ll call the mansion; they can send someone down with the limousine,” he said quietly. It would be horrid, but there it was.

“You’re going to wake everybody up to have somebody have to get up out of bed and go outside to come get you in this weather?” Clark said, not believing what he was hearing.

Lex winced.

“Not to mention how sick you are? You need to be in bed, not moving around out in the cold and getting all wet again!”

“’m not that sick,” Lex mumbled.

“Yes, you are.”

Lex bit down on a snarl. Irrational anger pooled in his stomach, and he spat out, sarcastically, “Well, where am I going to sleep, then, Clark? Your parents’ room? Or perhaps the guest room?” Then he stopped short, startled, and looked up at Clark, suddenly wondering why he hadn’t thought of the guest room earlier, and then felt a little uneasy because he couldn’t think of a reason why Clark wouldn’t have suggested it first.

Clark sighed and shook his head. “No, you can’t stay the night in there. The guest room’s full of stuff, even the bed’s completely covered.” Lex started to frown and wondered why they couldn’t just straighten it up temporarily, and Clark misinterpreted it, adding, “What, did you think that the spaceship was left out here when we did have space someplace else? My parents aren’t stupid, Lex, they…” he trailed off and they both stared at each other.

Lex realized it about the same time Clark did. Lex started laughing hysterically while Clark just looked flabbergasted and a little pissed off at him. “Lex, they couldn’t… I mean… that’s not--!”

“It’s a… a big bed, right? At least queen-sized?” Lex managed to get out between giggles. “It’d… fit…” he grinned.

“Lex, they couldn’t--!” He was glancing at the ship and away, over and over, obviously having a hard time visualizing what it would look like nestled in the middle of his parent’s bed like a giant metallic egg. “That’s just wrong!

The look of utter disgusted teenage horror combined with that tone… just set Lex off again.

“Oh, for--!” Clark exclaimed as Lex collapsed against him laughing again. He threw up his hands in the air and rolled his eyes skyward.

Lex finally calmed himself down a little. Clark’s death glare helped. “Sorry, sorry, I…” Then, he realized that not all of that ire was directed at him.

“Clark…” he started gently, then sighed. “Look, that’s not something most people would think of,” Clark tensed and crossed his arms, glaring off to the side, so he tried a different tack. “Could they even get it up the stairs?”

Clark blinked and turned back to him, shoulders dropping slightly. “What?” Then he glanced back at the spaceship again and over at the staircase, frowning slightly as he thought.

“…I don’t know,” Clark said after awhile. “It’s heavy, but not that heavy… I mean, they got it up the porch steps,” he frowned a little more as he probably came to the same conclusion as Lex did – they had probably brought it up those stairs side-by-side, an impossibility for the indoor staircase. “It could fit if they tilted it, but…” The angry tension slowly eased out of him as he thought through the difficulty of it. “No, they probably couldn’t.”

“And they must have moved it in here in the afternoon, while it was still light out and people were still tromping around your farm.” Otherwise, Clark would have known that it was in here. “That must’ve taken some deft maneuvering as it was to keep anyone from seeing it or becoming suspicious of what they were doing,” Lex said, feeling impressed despite himself at the Kent’s ingenuity. He’d had C.E.P. inspectors around the plant before, and they were notorious for getting their noses into anything and everything. They would have been on the lookout for any behavior that might have suggested that they could have been improperly storing fertilizers or other chemical compounds themselves, and with the ship having come from the storm cellar – a prime storage place for just that sort of material – and the house, part of the property and technically part of the area they were allowed to search if they had probable cause, could have been searched if they’d noticed anything. Trying to move something around with any sort of secrecy should have gotten the C.E.P. up in arms and demanding to see the offending items being hidden from their oversight. Lex honestly could not think of a way that they could have pulled it off.

“Not really. Mom could’ve just kept them busy while dad moved it up to the house,” Clark shrugged. Lex stared at him in astonishment. “No, really – you can’t see the cow pasture until you walk over the ridge; they were all over in the field – it goes both ways,” he explained.

“I thought you said it was heavy?”

“Not that heavy, and dad’s pretty strong. He just would’ve had to get it out of the cellar and onto a dropcloth or something on his own, then dragged it along up to the door.”

“But if someone else saw it—“

“Who else lives around here? Lana and Nell live a mile away, and the town’s farther. It’s just us out here. Mom’s friendly, and she could’ve asked whether everybody was there and what they’d found where in the field to get an idea of where everybody was and when. The C.E.P. guys had no reason to move past the fields where the dumping happened.” From Clark’s tone, he really wasn’t seeing the difficulty or the risk of attempting to perform such a daring feat in broad daylight and in plain sight, no less.

“Then why did your parents feel a need to move it in the first place?” Lex pressed.

“I guess somebody must’ve talked about taking samples from down in the cellar at some point,” Clark shrugged. “If they had to leave before the C.E.P. guys had finished working, then they wouldn’t be able to redirect them if they did that. …I don’t know; it’s just a guess. I haven’t talked to them yet, and it’s too late to call tonight. I’ll know tomorrow after we talk.”

"What are you going to tell them?" Lex asked, morbidly curious.

"About what?"

Lex looked up at him, frowning. "About me."

"What about you?"

Lex pushed himself up slowly, starting to feel a good bit of apprehension. "About me knowing. ...About the spaceship. ...What happened, how I saw it." Clark's continuing blank stare was starting to make him nervous. "I assume they'd like to talk to me about..." he trailed off.

"You're not talking to them about the spaceship," Clark said slowly.

"Why not?" He certainly wanted to. It was only the reverse that ought to be worrisome, right?

"Lex," Clark said, shifting farther upright and looking worried, headed towards panic, "You can't talk to anyone about this."

"But they already know about the spaceship," Lex pointed out. What was he missing here? Clark had taken him finding out fine, and trusted him enough to leave him alone for a nontrivial period of time with it and access to outside communication. His parents would surely be somewhat swayed by the fact that he hadn’t abused that trust, especially when Clark backed him up, wouldn't they?

"No, Lex--"

"They don't know?" Lex said, being contrary. Short of Clark having lied about the note and the spaceship having moved itself indoors without the opposable thumbs necessary to turn doorknobs, he didn't see how that would be possible.

Then he got sidetracked for a moment thinking of all the ways alien tech could have gotten it inside on its own: teleportation? Telekinesis? An ability to phase through walls? Given the range of meteor mutant abilities seen thus far, none of this was necessarily outside the realm of possibility, and--

Wait a minute...

"Yes, they know -- I told you... Lex, they can't know that you know. You can't tell them you know!"

Lex wrenched his thoughts back to their discussion. "Clark--" Lex had a sinking feeling about this.

"No! Look, you aren't going to talk to anyone about the spaceship, ever. So they don't have to know!"

Lex eyes widened in shock -- Clark was talking about keeping a secret with him from his own family, and he knew what sort of relationship Clark had with his parents; he knew what this implied. The Kents had always closed ranks together before, and generally presented a unified front against the world, despite any inner conflicts that might or might not exist. This would drive a wedge between them, and the cost to Clark would be... unacceptable. Mr. Kent did try to be a good role model for his son, though Lex did not agree with what that closed-minded bigot thought was "right" and "wrong" behavior -- such as where any association with younger Luthors fell into that spectrum -- and despite what Lex believed to be Mr. Kent's failings, he had never questioned the fact that Jonathan Kent did provide for his family, and it was undeniable that he loved his adopted son fiercely.

Poor choice in initial home placement aside, Lex did not want to come between Clark and his father in a manner that would force Clark to choose between them, even if it resulted in Jonathan's loss, because given Clark's feelings and upbringing, such a thing would irrevocably damage Clark, and Lex knew it. Lex knew better than to jeopardize what looked from all aspects to be unconditional love, something he never would have thought existed in this world before he'd met Clark and his family. And Lex was the one putting Clark in this position, which meant Lex was the one balanced on the knife's edge. This is dangerous ground, Lex realized. Tread carefully.

"Clark," he said lowly and with great care, "If you thought I would tell someone about the ship," he watched Clark go a little pale but continued anyway, because he had to know, "What would you do?"

"I'd have to call my parents," he said quietly, looking Lex in the eye, even though it was clear he didn't want to.

Lex stared right back, and slowly processed that statement. It was a warning. Clark was trying to tell him something he couldn't say. Then he closed his eyes and sucked in a breath and shivered slightly as he realized what Clark hadn't said. Because Clark didn't say that he'd have to tell them, or talk to them: Clark had said that he'd have to call them right away at this time of night.

Yet Lex still couldn't see the urgency that would cause. He blinked his eyes back open and then rubbed his hands up and down Clark's arms to try and calm his young friend down. He hadn't meant to scare him.

Well, they had just talked earlier about being more direct and open, hadn't they? So Lex started to explain his thought process at the moment, hoping that Clark would work with him, give him some clue as to what was going on that he was missing.

"Clark, I don't understand why this needs to be kept a secret so badly. Knowing that aliens are out there, seeing the spaceship, and learning from it..." he felt Clark tense under his hands, and he kept lightly rubbing his arms, trying to soothe him while keeping physical contact with him, because, if he'd learned anything about him at all, it was that Clark responded much better to close physical proximity than anything else when discussing things in close confidence. He didn't start talking again until Clark was merely bridge-cable tense once more and able to hold the load, not piano-wire tense and about to snap. "Sharing this could change the world, in a lot of good ways. What detriment could it cause to anyone if..." he trailed off as Clark tensed suddenly under his hands again.

Then he finally remembered that secrets and lies were not always used to misdirect solely for one's personal benefit and the loss of others. Sometimes they were used to protect--

Lex's eyes widened as it came to him like a lightning strike of clarity through the fog of his ill-structured thoughts. And it honestly hadn't occurred to him before; it was just that crazy...

"They didn’t just find the spacecraft. Your parents know the alien this belongs to, don't they?" Lex breathed out.

Clark trembled once and nodded. It was evident that he was afraid to look away for even a moment.

"They're... keeping it safe for... him?" Lex added slowly.

Clark nodded jerkily.

Lex swallowed. "Do you know who it is?"

Clark looked about to cry. He closed his eyes, bowed his head, and then remained stone still.

"Clark, you don't have to tell me who it is, all right? Just..." Clark jerked away from him suddenly, and he couldn't allow that to happen. Lex rearranged himself into a kneeling posture in front of Clark, ignoring the blanket as it slid down away from his shoulders and reached his hands up, gently stroking the sides of Clark's face. "Just, do you know..."

"Yes," came the hoarse whispered reply, eyes downcast.

Lex let a slow shallow breath out, because now would be a very bad time to start coughing.

"And you can't tell me." Lex had a growing, sickening feeling. "It hurts to talk about this."

"Y-yes. I'm sorry, I--" Clark voice broke as he brought his head up, unshed tears shining in his eyes. "I can't, I just can't. My parents --I can't!"

That alien bastard. Had he threatened Clark? Threatened the lives of his parents? Had it --he done something to them that physically prevented them from speaking about it by inflicting great pain?

"God, you are going to hate me when you find out--" Clark continued, pulling inwards and shuddering.

"No," Lex said firmly, tilting Clark's chin back up and laying his other hand on his shoulder.

"...What?" Clark said, startled beyond belief.

"I'm not going to try to track him down." Clark looked at him in utter disbelief, near-incomprehension. "If you think it's too dangerous, if you truly believe that and want me to stay out of it, I will. For your safety. But if that alien finds out that I know and tries to hurt you--"

"That's not--!!" Clark exclaimed, surprising both of them with his interruption. For a moment Clark looked like he wanted to clap his hands over his mouth, but then he seemed to regroup. "Lex, I-- the, the... alien isn't the problem here, ok?" he said, looking oddly nervous. "I'm... I'm not in any danger of..." He looked horribly frustrated and shook his head a few times, clenching his fists on his knees.

Lex was taken aback. "It's just your parents that are the problem here?"

Clark nodded miserably, looking away.

“So, wait—“ Lex was having trouble turning that one over in his head. “The alien wouldn’t have a problem with me knowing?”

“I-- the alien already knows, Lex,” Clark shrugged, trying to do it noncommittally.

Lex stared at him. Then his head whipped around and he stared at the spacecraft. Then he looked back at Clark and pointed at the spacecraft.

“What--? No! That’s not… No. Um,” Clark replied. “Just… no. He’s, uh, …around,” he ended vaguely.

Lex blinked, lowering his arm. Then he thought about that. There was only one conclusion he could draw from that, which coincidently could explain why Mr. Kent always seemed so protective when he was...

“Your parents are sheltering him on the farm?”

Clark looked a little startled, then hesitantly nodded sheepishly.

“Hm. I guess that explains why your father is always so ready to kick me off the property.”

“Oh. No, that’s because he thinks you’ll be a bad influence on him,” Clark grinned, then he realized it and tried to wipe the expression off his face with not a whole lot of success.

“…Not because he’s afraid I’ll spot him?” Lex said skeptically, raising his eyebrows. He slowly began to relax, Clark’s lightening mood lessening his own anxiety.

“Uh, no, why…?”

“He doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb?” Lex asked smoothly, borrowing the phrase.

“Well… no? Why would he?”

“He looks human?” Lex blurted out loud.

“Er, well…” Clark seemed to need a moment to think about how to best put it. “He looks as human as you or me?” he said finally, his eyes bright and sharp.

It was interesting. Suddenly, Clark seemed so much more alive. What was this? Had he really needed someone to talk to about this so badly?

Well, if it had been Lex in Clark’s place… in a word? Yes.

But, back to the matter at hand: “Clark, I’m not entirely sure I would be the best comparison for that,” he replied, tongue-in-cheek, running a hand over his scalp.

“Lex!”

Lex simply cocked his head, then reached down and retrieved the blanket, wrapping it about him again, and turning to sit sideways from Clark, a little closer than before… though not quite as close as sprawling on his lap again.

Clark sighed a bit, then said, “Ok – do I look as human as you do?”

“Clark—“

“Yes or no.”

“…Yes,” he admitted.

“Then he looks human,” Clark ended, crossing his arms and looking pleased with himself.

Lex rolled his eyes. Then he glanced over at the spacecraft again and rearranged what he had visualized the interior might look like. “That must have been an awfully uncomfortable trip, then.” At Clark’s odd look, he explained his thoughts. “There would have to be some room set aside for life support, propulsion. He would have had to have been all folded up inside to fit in that.”

“Oh, uh…” Clark looked a little embarrassed.

Lex looked back at him. “You’ve seen the inside? You know how to open it?”

“Er, no and no. But dad saw the inside once.” He paused, seemed to be considering something, then shrugged and said, “It was about this big.” He made a gesture with hands and arms.

Lex practically choked, then started coughing again instead. Clark patted him on the back gently and waited. Finally, Lex got out an incredulous, “He’s midget-sized?!”

“Wha— Nooo!” Clark laughed out, then bit his lip. “He’s, um. He’s bigger now.”

Oh, for heaven’s sake! If he wasn’t so sure that Clark was telling the truth, he’d swear the boy was pulling his leg. “What, to grow alien, just add water?” he spit out sarcastically, rolling his eyes again.

Clark covered his mouth to stop the laugh Lex realized was coming, and just shook his head instead. Lex crossed his arms and tried to glare, but his heart wasn’t in it.

“Fine. He’s a human-looking alien and he’s adult-sized,” he huffed. “Then I suppose he doesn’t have to spend all his time hiding out on the farm, then.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Clark replied with a smile, to the question he hadn’t even quite asked.

“Oh.” Lex thought about that, how this alien person could be any guy out on the street and he wouldn’t even know it, and he frowned, feeling a little pissed off.

“…Lex? What’s… wrong?”

“Nothing,” he grumbled. “I just don’t like it.”

Clark shifted uneasily next to him. “Don’t like what?”

“Well, he’s an alien.” Clark looked even more unsure. “I mean, here we are, on Earth, with a real live alien come to meet us, and he doesn’t even have the decency to be green-skinned, or anything,” he complained. First alien on the planet and he doesn’t even look alien? That’s just wrong.

Clark stared at him in complete amazement for a moment. And then he started laughing hysterically.

Lex gave him a sideways glance and pursed his lips slightly. His friend didn’t seem to be taking this very seriously.

“Oh… oh my god, I—I am never, never,” Clark got out between giggles, “never never never forgetting this conversation! Ever!” He was still grinning wide even after.

“You know what I mean, Clark,” Lex said, annoyed.

“Y-yeah, I do. I’m sorry. I just,” he grinned back, wiping at his eyes a little. “Really going to hate me later, I swear,” he smiled, with a half-wince.

“No, I don’t,” Lex said. “I mean, I won’t. If I ever meet him. It’s not your fault you have a horrible sense of humor.”

Clark sighed and slouched back against the couch again. “I might have to hold you to that, then.”

“Feel free,” Lex replied, waving a lazy hand.

“Um,” Clark spoke up again after awhile. “What would you do if you… met him, if you could?” He sounded really curious.

“Why? What do you do?”

Clark didn’t respond. Lex sighed. “Well, I don’t know. Is he… nice?”

“Nice?” Clark looked uncomfortable. “Um, define ‘nice’?”

Lex gave him a look. “Well…” He revised his initial question – Clark generally did not associate with people who did not meet some basic standards of decent social conduct. “Does he ever talk about his home planet with you, maybe compare things there with Earth? Show you, say, how to operate the spacecraft?” He searched around for something non-alien to add to that. “Does he play basketball?”

“Well, he plays basketball for fun sometimes. Not the others.”

“Why not? Some sort of Prime Directive against taking you on a joyride through space?” Lex grouched. If it was, then it was stupid – revealing alien existence to only a select few, and then thumbing his advanced technology in the face of the natives like holding a good textbook just out of reach like a rich schoolyard bully saying ‘Nah nah nah nah nah, you can’t have this?’ Especially since Clark was an avid stargazer; Lex had seen his telescope and they’d had many a fine discussion on star lore.

“Well, no.”

“Then why not?”

“He doesn’t know.”

“He doesn’t have a good reason?” Lex frowned.

“No. –I mean,” Clark started again before Lex could get in another word, “He doesn’t know how to operate the spaceship.”

“…He’s a dumb alien?” Lex felt scandalized. What sort of alien race of people didn’t tutor themselves in the use of their own technology?

“What? No! –Hey!!” Clark sounded annoyed. “He’s not stupid, just ignorant! It’s not his fault he doesn’t know!”

“Clark, you shouldn’t make excuses for anyone’s willful ignorance, least of all—“

“No! I mean it’s really not his fault!”

“Then why did he get into a spacecraft that he didn’t know how to operate in the first place?“

“He didn’t have a choice!”

What? “Someone forced him--?” So it was an accident that the alien had ended up on Earth, somehow? Did all aliens look human, or just his race? Either way, that seemed like a pretty big cosmic coincidence…

“No! I mean, sort of? I—I don’t know!” Clark half-shouted, running his hands through his hair and looking frazzled.

“He refused to tell you?”

“He doesn’t know! He doesn’t remember!”

That brought Lex to a screeching halt.

“What do you mean he doesn’t remember?

Clark suddenly looked nervous. Lex had seen that body language on a horse once, and it had immediately shied away three paces to the left from him when he’d even looked like he’d try to approach. So Lex tried very hard to grapple down his irritancy and waited.

“He,” Clark swallowed, “He doesn’t remember anything before Earth.”

Lex waited.

After a minute or so, Lex determined that that was all Clark had to say on the matter.

“You can’t be serious.”

“I’m not lying,” Clark said, and there was an underlying tremulous urgency there that Lex had never heard from Clark before.

“Then he’s lying to you.”

“No, he’s not.”

“Clark—“ he started impatiently.

“It’s the truth.”

Lex stopped short at the tone. He realized that he was going to need to approach this carefully.

“Clark,” he started slowly, “Are you sure he’s an alien?”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re the one who said he looks human. Do you have any idea how astronomical the odds are against that?” Clark shifted uneasily and Lex knew he’d remembered his science fiction and his science fact. Good. “And now you’re telling me that while this male individual lays claim to this spaceship, he also claims to have some sort of amnesia that oh-so-conveniently prevents him from answering questions about his past, or anything else that could positively back up his claims?” How exactly had the Kents managed to get snowed by such a charlatan? Lex wanted to know.

Clark grimaced, crossed his arms protectively, and started, “It is his spaceship, and—“

“Did your parents actually see him come out of it?”

“Well, no, but—“

“Is there any other evidence that he is of unearthly origin? --Hard evidence that can’t be faked?”

Clark sighed heavily and looked away. “Yes,” he said finally.

Lex gave him a ‘Well??’ look.

“He… can do things.”

“Such as?”

Clark grimaced and didn’t say anything.

“Like the meteor freaks can do things?” Lex began dangerously.

“More than that. Way more.”

Lex started to retort, but then he stopped. Clark had been in the thick of meteor-related activity ever since he’d known him and, no doubt, from the time that Chloe initially involved him in her Wall Of Weird work. He, perhaps more than anyone else in town, would be qualified to be able to tell whether someone was human, meteor freak, or… more.

Damnit. Lex hated taking things at face value when dealing with secondhand information, but in this case he had no choice. He could try for more information, but…

“Honestly, Clark, what sort of things did he show you that would convince you that no-one else would… notice…” Oh. Dear god. “Clark, you—“

Clark winced and seemed to be holding his breath.

“Oh god, all those times. The broken concrete-filled doorway at the plant, how Kelvin ended up in the middle of that pond without anyone else getting hurt, what happened with Whitney and the meteor rock tattoo gang… That was—“ Lex shook his head. “That was him, wasn’t it? Clark, you’re lucky that he’s watching over you, but those were still some close calls. You shouldn’t go running into things counting on him to get you out of trouble.” Clark was looking grim and angry.

“I mean it Clark, you’ve been lucky. And you’re luckier still that no-one’s been asking more questions about you. I can’t believe that he’d just do whatever he does and run off like that, leaving you to try and explain everything away covering for him. That’s cowardly, and that just makes you the target of inquiry instead of him.” Lex didn’t want to count how many times he himself had thought Clark had done whatever strange thing that had happened; Clark just wasn’t a good enough liar to cover for his alien friend – not on-the-spot like that, at least. Though nearly every time Lex had caught him at it, Lex had been sure that the lying had been meant to cover himself, not someone else. That could almost be considered a good lie, except for the fact that it drew Clark directly into the line of fire, instead.

“It is really so hard for you to believe that I might be…“ Clark muttered angrily, then trailed off.

“What, the friend of an alien? I told you Clark, you’re extraordinary. If the sole reason that alien had come here was to get to know you, I’d give it high marks for good taste,” Lex said breezily.

Clark looked mollified, and turned a little red. “I don’t, I mean—“

“You’re worth it,” Lex stated in no uncertain terms. “That’s why I’m so frustrated with him. He ought to be teaching you self-defense, or helping you stay out of those situations. If he’s so strong and -- hm, fast? – among whatever other things he is, he ought to be the point-runner, not you. It’s good to want to help your friends, Clark, but you’re not invincible. I don’t want you getting hurt, and he shouldn’t either.”

Clark looked more than a little annoyed with Lex at the moment. “I know,” Clark muttered. “But I won’t stop trying,” he added, looking Lex in the eye.

Lex just sighed. Hashing out Clark’s savior complex yet again would have to be an argument for another time. Now he had a better feeling of what he was up against, though – an alien with powers and abilities well beyond mortal ken who Clark apparently looked up to and tried to emulate. Maybe he would have to suss out who this individual was, after all, in order to sit him down and explain to him exactly what he was doing to Clark. He might need the source of the problem -- the alien himself -- to explain to Clark the differences in their strengths and weaknesses and how and when he needed to be more careful.

“Just think about it?”

Clark shrugged.

Lex sighed and ran a hand over his head. He was definitely going to need to “accidentally” figure out who the alien was. Lex hoped that paying closer attention to what happened in town, now that he had an idea of what to look for, and not specifically going out of his way to set something up to force a reveal would count as ‘not tracking him down.’ It would be playing slightly fast-and-loose with his own moral code but, well, considering this was about keeping Clark alive… well, if the alien wasn’t worried about that already, then he deserved to have Lex breathing down his neck.

“So, what would you do if you met him, besides get on his case for helping me out?” Clark said with Sullivan-level snark.

“I suppose…” Lex tried to line up the clamor in his head into some semblance of order. Well, when it came right down to it, it all generally fell under a heading of: “Talk with him about things.”

Clark blinked at him. “Talk with him about things.”

“Yes.”

“Um, but he doesn’t remember—“

“--anything before arriving on Earth; yes, Clark, I remember you saying that. I don’t see how that has any relevance.” Then Lex paused. “He does speak English, I hope?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent -- then we’d be able to communicate easily. Never underestimate the worth of a good conversation, Clark,” Lex smiled. “He’s an intelligent alien – an alien intelligence. It would be interesting to see how he thinks – what the similarities and differences are. We learn more about ourselves through comparison to others than anything else. Being able to make a comparison between human thought and alien thought would be invaluable. And, I’m sure he would have a unique viewpoint and outlook on life on this planet, as well. Outsiders generally see more than those mired within the center of the system, and he would be the quintessential outsider, regardless of how welcome you and your parents might make him feel,” Lex ended gently. He didn’t want Clark to feel bad about it; he was a bit of an outsider himself, as was Lex.

“…That’s it?”

“That’s not enough?” Lex frowned.

“You wouldn’t want to… know how he does what he does?”

“He understands his own biology?”

“Um, no. Not so much.”

Lex tilted his head and considered, tamping down his excitement a bit. This was all theoretical, after all. He didn’t really expect Clark to ask the alien to approach him, introduce himself, and then sit down and have a chat. “I would certainly like to know how he does what he does, of course, Clark! Especially if it is in any way similar to the meteor freaks so that we could better devise treatment solutions and suppression drugs. But asking for private information on his biology during a first meeting, before any trust has been established?” Lex shook his head. “That sort of information could be easily used or exploited any number of ways, and twisted into something quite dangerous, certainly. I doubt he’d be so open. If he was, well, I’d be worried that you or your parents might have given him the wrong impression about the dangers inherent in that. And I wouldn’t be able to learn much from him on that score, short of convincing him to let me stick him under an MRI machine and take samples of his blood, and then finding a trustworthy doctor or two to work with…” Lex paused, remembering his earlier reaction, and then... “I don’t think it would be a good idea to have me involved in that, anyway.”

Clark’s head came up at that. “What? Why not?” he asked with open curiosity.

“In a word: Lionel.” Lex saw Clark shiver at the thought and nodded grimly at his friend. “To date, he has managed to worm his way into whatever I have done with remarkable ease. I would not want to risk my father getting his hands on any information to do with alien life – on this planet, or any other.”

“That’s… a pretty good reason.”

Lex nodded. “Besides, Clark, he’s been on this planet for twelve years. If he hasn’t found a doctor or medical professional that he could trust with his origins and his medical care by now… somehow I doubt I’d be the one to convince him otherwise.” He watched Clark wince and figured that he was right on that account. “Has he said anything to you about having a trustworthy doctor?”

“That sort of thing doesn’t usually come up in polite conversation,” Clark dissembled.

Lex had a suspicion that that might have just as much to do with Clark’s own aversion to needles as anything the alien might feel on the subject.

“But, I mean… an MRI and bloodwork? And talking? That’s it?” Clark sounded confused.

“Well, what do you think I should do, then?” Lex replied.

“That’s not… I mean… I don’t know,” Clark stammered. “It’s just… wouldn’t most people want to, I don’t know, lock him up or, um…”

“I am not most people, Clark,” Lex said darkly. “If he’s not a menace –is he planning on taking over the world or performing criminal acts?”

“What? No!!!”

“And I assume that having been wandering around for twelve years already, he probably isn’t the carrier of some disease beyond our immune system’s ability to cope that would shortly wipe us all out, yes?”

Clark looked a little ill at that.

“Can I also assume that since he’s been in close contact with your family that he does not otherwise exude toxic substances that would cause harm to living things?”

Clark squirmed.

“Well, if he isn’t a criminal, and he doesn’t need to be quarantined, then there’s no reason to lock him up. America doesn’t have very strict immigration laws as it is, and I doubt anyone could complain that he didn’t go through the proper border authority when we don’t have a checkpoint set up in space.”

“Um, what about the space station?” Clark asked, trying to stifle a slowly-forming grin.

Lex played along. “Doesn’t count. It’s not an official branch, and has no properly-trained personnel with the proper qualifications or clearances,” he drawled out with an imperial wave.

“Wow, maybe somebody should warn the president to do something about that,” Clark grinned.

Well, Lex certainly knew the only correct response to that! “Not it.”

Clark laughed.

“Anything else untoward you’re worried that the idiot populace might think is a good idea, Clark?”

“Uh, experiment on him?”

Lex twitched.

“Meaning?” he asked with deadly calm. Clark had best not be saying what Lex thought he was implying, because if he was…

“Uh, like alien autopsy stuff?” Clark said, squirming and trying to make light of it when he was obviously highly uncomfortable with the thought.

…then someone in the science department at the high school was going to need firing. Several someones.

“Clark,” he started slowly. “This is not the Dark Ages. It is not polite to torture other human beings. We have laws against that. No competent, licensed medical professional in their right mind would--”

“Right,” Clark said grimly. It was agreement, but… there was something lying underneath it, a hint of terrible darkness that Lex would never have thought Clark capable of.

Lex stopped.

“Care to elaborate on that?” Lex asked quietly.

“It’s not right to torture other human beings. It also doesn’t stop people from doing it. It happens. And he’s not human. And there are a lot of people with medical training out there who aren’t licensed, or professional, or just wouldn’t care so long as they had that excuse. And all those Nazi guys at the death camps experimenting on people? Were all doctors, too.”

Lex fought his rising nausea at Clark’s little speech. If this was the sort of thing that Clark had grown up with, it was no wonder that he had serious issues when it came to hospitals. What was the true wonder was that, after he’d been thrown into that car by Summers, that he’d let anyone bring him within a mile of a hospital, let alone ended up inside with X-rays taken. Lex couldn’t imagine what it must have taken him to walk into the hospital and visit Lex or any of his other friends when they were ill.

“It’s wrong, it shouldn’t happen, and if I ever came across a person like that…” I’d shoot them in the head. “But not all people are like that, Clark. You must know that. And certainly scientists would be less likely to do so than the uneducated mob,” he ghosted a hand over his head again, trying to think of a good way to explain this. “No true scientist would want to hurt your friend. If would be as if…” he sighed. “Not being human isn’t an excuse. If they’re an intelligent being, then they’re a person, and you don’t treat people like that. Anything less is racism, in the truest sense of the word. It would be as stupid as deciding it would be perfectly fine to gun someone down in the street if they lived farther away from you than a day’s travel could take you from your home. That might have been how things were decades ago, but not today. And even in the ‘Wild West’, when it was all ‘cowboys and Indians’ and a day’s ride could take you across the border of another hostile nation, people knew it was wrong, what they were doing. It’s unconscionable. It isn’t logical. And it isn’t right.”

“No, it isn’t,” Clark agreed, “But it only takes one person,” Clark ended quietly.

Suddenly Lex felt very, very old. And right there, he made his decision.

“Clark, I am not going to tell anyone about your alien friend or his spaceship, ever. No-one will hear it from me. And I will not discuss them with anyone who seems to have any knowledge of them, either, unless you explicitly tell me it is ok to do so with that particular individual or individuals. And even then, I will make my own further determination as to their trustworthiness and the security of our surroundings before proceeding. Is that acceptable to you?” Lex stated intensely. And he meant every word.

Clark’s breath hitched and his eyes widened. Then Lex realized that he had not actually promised this to Clark earlier; Clark had been assuming -- or perhaps merely hoping given his reaction, he realized grimly -- that Lex would keep the secret long-term without any real confirmation from him. That… was a lot more trust than he was used to receiving, even from Clark.

“Clark?”

“Y-yes. Ok. Yes, please. That would be good,” Clark stammered. “Thank you.”

“It’s the least I can do,” Lex ended quietly, leaning back into the couch. He looked sadly upon the ship. It might be the last time he would be seeing it for a good while.

“You are going to tell your parents eventually, I hope? I really would like to talk with them. I think they should know.” Lex tried. He was thinking a little more clearly now, and even if Clark thought it was a bad idea to tell his parents now, they might be able to make a successful attempt with them if they waited long enough that Lex’s good behavior would make the truth of his promise self-evident. The trick would be waiting enough time that the Kents would not outright dismiss the claim, but not so long that they would take Clark to task for the delay.

“Eventually?”

Lex nodded. Getting Clark to agree to telling them sometime rather than outright never telling them would also hopefully have far less of the divisive impact that the latter would otherwise create. He had little doubt that a lie of omission would be considered less of a sin in this family between its members than an outright lie. And if his parents claimed otherwise, well, then, he and Clark would have a twelve-year-long lie of omission to point out against their far shorter, and far less egregious, delay.

“I… I don’t know. I could try to work them up to it.”

“And in the meantime, I would be quietly showing that I can be trusted by doing nothing. I just recommend that you not wait too long, or they may come to that realization themselves before we say anything.”

“How would they realize it?” Clark asked, with a little suspicion.

“Clark, I will try to do my best to conduct myself the same as always, but if you are in danger and I have information or resources at my disposal that can help, I will use them,” he pointed out.

“But don’t you do that already?” Clark frowned.

“Yes… but now I know a critical piece of information that I did not have before. And, if we do talk about… alien things… at other times, I will learn a great deal more. I will hopefully be able to react more effectively when situations like that occur, but if I, say, turn my own focus of attention away from something as well as others, so that your alien friend can do whatever he needs to do without being seen, that is something helpful, but also noticeable. There may be questions.”

Clark… nodded thoughtfully, thinking it over. “That should be one thing we should definitely talk about more. Later.”

Lex nodded in agreement.

Clark resettled himself on the couch, and glanced over at the ship. “Um, I know we talked about… the alien. But what would you want to do with the ship, if you could?”

Lex held back a groan. “Please don’t tease me, Clark.”

Clark frowned a little. “What do you mean?”

Lex straightened and tried to be the least bitter about this as he could manage. “Even if you secured permission for me to experiment with the spacecraft from the alien…”

“That’s easy. Just don’t blow anything up.”

Lex closed his eyes and resisted the urge to throw things. “Even if you can follow through on that, Clark, I can’t do anything until your parents know that I know, and I have no doubt that they would expect me to get permission from them, as well, or restrict access as they see fit.”

“Huh?”

Lex tried very hard not to grit his teeth. “Clark, there is no way that your parents are going to let me anywhere near that storm cellar or the ship while they are here and uninformed of my accidental discovery tonight, and at least one of them is almost always home. Short of you smuggling me down there and locking me in so that they don’t see anything amiss from the outside, I won’t be able to do anything, and I doubt that performing experiments with that spaceship behind their backs will do anything but convince them that I am a sneaky bastard who cannot be trusted.” Because they will assume that the big bad Luthor either sweet-talked or threatened you into it for his continuing silence, no matter what you or I or your alien friend may say, and I will probably end up either shot or banned from the property and barred from ever seeing or speaking to you again if that happens.

“But that’s…” Clark sucked in a breath, and then looked more than a little miserable. Apparently he did understand Lex’s feelings enough in this to know what this was costing him to say, and would cost him to do. For an unspecified period of time.

“I’m sorry, Lex, I…” he swallowed. “I… don’t really want anything to do with the thing, but I know that you do and… you could probably…” He looked down at his hands. “I… god, I wish I could tell you everything. Then they’d have to… maybe…”

Lex blinked up at him. How much more could there be? That sounded like a lot more than the identity of one unknown human-looking alien friend-of-the-family.

Clark looked up at him and seemed to steel himself a little. “I know you promised not to try and figure out who the alien is—“

“Clark—“

“—but if you do,” Clark overrode him. “If you do, without hurting anyone or… or doing anything that would have anybody else find out… and you’re right?” Clark took a deep breath. “I’ll tell you everything I know. Ok? And I’ll make my parents be ok with it.”

Lex swallowed hard and nodded once. That was far more than he’d hoped for.

And then Lex did something rather embarrassing. He yawned.

Clark covered a grin, which also turned into a yawn.

“Ok, it’s official – we totally need to sleep,” Clark declared, sliding his legs over the side of the couch and getting ready to stand up.

“Clark, I still am not kicking you out of your bed. …Or taking your parents’ bed, either,” he added, suppressing a shudder. Ew.

“That’s ok, we’ll share.”

Wait, what?

“We’ll both share my bed. It’s big enough,” Clark repeated, holding out a hand. Lex frowned up at him.

“Clark, I’ve seen your room, and your bed—“ Lex began.

“Got a new one, it’s a little bigger. Not just the old repaired one. And it’s definitely long enough,” he added.

Lex was too tired to argue at this point, so he simply acquiesced. And, after all, long enough for Clark would be long enough for… wait.

“I need to call in sick first. I can call the main branch and leave a message, they’ll pass it along.”

“Sure, ok.” Clark waved him over to the phone. “You can sleep in. I won’t have to set my alarm, I was going to have to take the day off tomorrow anyway to deal with the aftermath of the C.E.P. stuff,” he shrugged.

Lex nodded, taking his hand and letting himself be pulled upright. He teetered over to the phone and made his call. The woman he talked to was very professional, and it didn’t take more than fifteen seconds to go through.

He hung up and was immediately assaulted with Clark and the thermometer again.

“104,” Clark frowned.

“Higher is better for the immune system,” Lex said, “And I do feel warmer now.” He’d had no cold chills for quite awhile.

Clark didn’t look convinced, but there wasn’t much he could do. Clark grabbed up his lantern, blew out the other candles in the living and dining room, and they made their way upstairs, changed into bedclothes – which were far too large for Lex, but he made do; at least they were warm – and each took one side of the bed.

They climbed under the covers, backs turned to each other, and said their goodnights. Clark blew out the candle in the lantern by his side of the bed.

It was not the most comfortable sleeping arrangement that Lex had ever had, but it was by far not the least manageable of many of the nighttime bedding scenarios he’d ever found himself in.

With a warm Clark at his back, and a solid door and flight of stairs between him and the living room, in a shorter period of time than he would have thought possible, he was out like a light.

~*~*~*~*~*~


~*~*~*~*~*~

Lex woke in the middle of the night, facing Clark, curled within his arms. He woke from a nightmare of crushed steel and dark water, the same one he usually had most nights these days.

Lex shoved away the memories like pushing through cobwebs; they still stuck to him. He supposed that it was going to be one of those nights.

Lex coughed softly, grimaced a little, and burrowed farther into Clark’s chest. Clark was fast asleep, and hopefully he wouldn’t mind come morning. Clark’s arms curled around him a little further, and he shifted slightly in his sleep, humming slightly.

He thoughts drifted back to Clark’s alien. That had been one of his more spectacular rescues, Lex realized, and he frowned as he realized what he’d accidentally been documenting all along – the alien’s exploits. He’d have to carefully and thoroughly destroy all the evidence he’d slowly accumulated in the Secret Room in the mansion when he returned the next morning. He didn’t want anyone else learning anything from him that might be damning, or set them on Clark’s trail, he thought muzzily; he had a promise to keep.

Something tickled and tugged at him inside his brain, though, and he frowned as he tried to think back on the accident. The torn top of the vehicle was, wow, evident of a good bit of strength, not just what some fast application of a pair of boltcutters could do to some pesky locks when a Luthor wasn’t looking. But where had the alien been when he had been looking?

Lex closed his eyes and replayed his memory of the crash from when he hit the bale of wire until he blacked out hitting the… rail… or was it the water? No, he thought, trying to control his breathing back down to an even rise and fall, I remember hitting the water, but what came before…

He stopped and backtracked. Stopped and backtracked. He’d met Clark’s eyes. In his head he replayed the simulation he’d had developed. Constant loop playback. Really compared it to his memory for the first time, instead of shying away from it. He’d met Clark’s eyes. He’d met Clark’s eyes, and then…

He’d hit.

Lex’s eyes snapped open, and he had to force himself to calm down. No, that can’t be right. The alien was there, it had to have stopped him, moved him, saved him first. Clark was fine, he…

He closed his eyes again and concentrated. Where had the alien been during all this? He looked human, not invisible -- he must have been around to see it and help.

But, try as he might, he couldn’t remember anyone else there. It had been just him and Clark. Him and…

His eyes snapped open again and he fought down panic. NO. There was no way, no way that could be right. Clark was--

Clark was his friend, and he was going to wake him up with his panic attack. He lifted shaking hands and pushed gently against Clark’s arm to draw himself away so he could get out of the too-small bed.

It was like trying to knead steel.

Lex’s eyes widened.

He let go, then touched him gently. Laid his whole hand across Clark’s bicep. Felt how slack and relaxed it was, breathed out a relieved sigh because he was being ridiculous, and then slowly started to push.

Warm. Living. Steel. With about as much give.

Lex bit back a whimper.

He curled in on himself, and Clark shifted again. Lex had a sudden terrifying vision of being crushed between something other than his seat and his dashboard, and only barely managed to restrain himself from lashing out in panic, because intellectually he now knew exactly how little effect that would have. He ratcheted it down, told himself that the easiest way to… get away… would just be to ask Clark to let him go; after all, why wouldn’t he? He pounded on Clark’s chest instead, softly, then more heavily.

Why wasn’t Clark waking up?? He started to shake.

Clark shifted again and muttered something that had Lex freeze in place. Lex broke out into a cold sweat.

That hadn’t been intelligible English, which at face value wasn’t odd at all. No, what was frightening was that the syllables hadn’t been English, or any other language Lex knew of. It had been intermixed with weird clicks, a glottal stop or two, and some sounds he was pretty sure could not possibly come out of a human throat.

When Clark shifted a third time, drawing him closer, Lex bit back a scream, and instead whimpered out, “Clark, Clark please.”

“Mmph,” he heard, and Clark’s arms miraculously loosened.

Lex still couldn’t move Clark’s limbs, but he was able to squirm down and out, now, and did just that.

Out of Clark’s arms, out from under the covers, and he plopped down on the floor next to Clark’s bed. Moonlight streamed in through the window behind him, in the too-quiet night now that the rain had stopped. It hit Clark’s form and Lex was reminded of a Greek god, immortalized in marble and paints, slumbering peacefully.

Lex swallowed hard and tried not to examine that thought too closely.

He slowly scrambled to his feet, as quietly and quickly as he could in his feverish state, and picked his way over to the door. He… he had to get out of the room. He needed a quiet corner to think. He needed…

He was out Clark’s door and halfway down the stairs before he remembered the spaceship, and when he looked up at the looming shadows painting the walls and every corner that almost seemed to be streaming from the alien technology, he froze like a deer in headlights.

And the menace he’d felt earlier was nothing compared to what he felt now, in the dark, alone, past the midnight witching hour.

He started to turn to go back up the stairs and then stopped as he felt a chill and goosebumps up the back of his neck. It was completely and totally irrational, but he had a horrendous fear that something was behind him at the top of the stairs and would get him if he turned around to face it. Something with glowing red eyes.

He couldn’t go forward and he couldn’t go back. He was stuck. Trapped. The panic oscillated inside him with no outlet. But he had to move. Back to the room. He had to get back to the room. Clark was up there; the thing at the top of the stairs wasn’t real, it was just in his head. The spaceship was real, and he had to get away from it.

He told his feet to move and they wouldn’t. He told his knees to bend and they wouldn’t. He started to shake and when he felt the danger and malice rise up before him like a wave, he finally came unglued, turned, and the fear of something at his back went away as he saw nothing was upstairs lying in wait. Then the terror and need to escape from what was downstairs slammed into him full-force from behind and propelled him upwards. He scrambled back up the stairs and into Clark’s room, slamming the door shut behind him.

He slid down the door, back to it, and struggled to breathe. He curled his knees up towards his chest and nearly wept at how normal and safe Clark’s room felt right then.

He started to cough again, and when he was able to look up once more, it was into glowing blue eyes.

Lex nearly let out a shriek.

Instead, he slammed back against the door and panted, eyes wide open.

It took him a moment, watching the dark form lever itself up from the bed, to realize that they were the same eyes he’d seen out in the barn – silver-blue and reflective, not glowing.

It didn’t help that a back portion of his brain was busy deciding that the safe, sane option for egress was out the second-story window, thanks-ever-so-much, and informing the rest of him in no uncertain terms that implementing that escape plan any time now would be really good.

“…Lex?” a sleepy voice asked. “What’s…” a hand came up to scrub against head-hair. “What’s going on?” Less sleepy, now.

“I had a nightmare,” he said, voice hitting the higher registers and cracking before the end. Still am, in fact. I’d really like to wake up now, please, his hysteria noted for the official record.

“Are you ok?” with concern. “Can I… help?”

Sure, Clark, you can help. You can tell me that aliens aren’t real and that there is no spaceship downstairs and that I’ve gone completely off my rocker and then I can relax and go to Belle Reeve and get the really good drugs! That would be just lovely. Very sane. I’m sure my father would be happy to sign off on it. Lex bit down on a hysterical giggle and shook his head from side-to-side instead, then stopped when he became afraid it might fall off.

“Um, ok…” unsure but backing off. “Do you normally have nightmares?” and concern made a reappearance.

“Sometimes.” No, not like this

Silver-blue blinked out of existence, then back in again.

“Oh. Sorry, I… that… sucks.”

“Not your fault.” Oh yes it is, it is all your— no, wait-- no, it’s not, he said he didn’t have a choice about being sent here, and I bet he didn’t get to decide whether he got born an alien, so stop that!

If he was born an alien.

Silver-blue eyes. Sometimes.

Also really fucking strong and damn near invulnerable. Sometimes.

Started out small and got big? Looked exactly like a human? …Or had it just taken the body of one?

If it was something that could inhabit human bodies, that would explain how the abilities Clark seemed to possess or ‘have happen around him’ had jumped to the Summers boy temporarily… and then back again. It would explain why Clark almost seemed to be two different people, sometimes.

It would explain a lot.

So, who was he talking to then? The alien? Or Clark? Or had Clark ever really existed?

Because it could also be a whole lot of wishful thinking, given that he considered Clark his friend and he didn’t want to think about whether ‘Clark’ was a complete lie told by a masterful puppeteer living inside ‘Clark’s skull, or, even worse, if Clark was real and being controlled most of the time, stuck behind his own eyes screaming for help.

But Summers had been fairly the same, personality-wise, before and after whatever had happened to him, Lex had read from his people’s research. That spelled hope for Clark. That could mean that Clark was a willing host, and not a prisoner, especially since it seemed he had gone to lengths to get it back. Lex prayed it was so.

…Of course, the alternative explanation was that Clark had been shot through space here as a baby, crashlanded on Earth, in the middle of populated Kansas, and then adopted by the Kents, no less. And who the hell would adopt an alien space-baby from god-knows-where and then raise it on a farm among cows? Or put through the paperwork to allow it? Hey, that seemed like a really good idea. …Oh, no, wait – no, it wasn’t -- that was completely insane.

Possession or coexistence. Parasitic, symbiotic, or other. …It had to be symbiotic coexistence. Nothing else made sense.

…Yet, all was still hearsay and conjecture. What was the Truth? Who or what was in front of him right now?

“…Lex?” A tentative, nervous question to a tentative, nervous being. How appropriate.

“Yes?” Hm, he’d gotten that out almost without sounding like a maniac ready to climb the walls, this time. Good for him.

“You’re… kind of looking at me like…” A pause. Hitch of breath, then: “You’re looking at me kind of funny.”

“Am I?”

Sound of nervous shuffle of bedclothes.

“Your eyes are blue,” Lex blurted out. Oh crap, that was not what I meant to say.

Deathly silent pause. “What??” strained reply, over… panic?

Too late now, just go with it. “Your eyes are silver-blue. And not quite glowing.”

What?!?” And knuckles came up to scrub at eyes, hard. It was such a purely human gesture. Lex dropped his head back against the door and felt his own terror and panic slowly begin to drain out of him. For some odd reason, he almost felt like crying.

“Is… is it better?” Clark asked tentatively, lower his hands from his eyes. Still silver-blue and reflecting the moonlight.

“No… but,” he sighed. “Clark, your eyes looked like that before in the barn, and--” he started to explain more fully, but...

“--My eyes have been doing this all night?!” Clark half-shrieked. “Why didn’t you say anything!?” He sounded…scared.

Oh, Clark. “Not all night, Clark; just out in the barn and now. I think it might be because the light is too dim and…“ He trailed off as Clark stared at him for a moment, then grabbed up the lantern, struck a match, opened the latch, and lit the candle all in one smooth motion, a fluid set of movements that were far too graceful for a human to be able to produce at that speed.

It was the little things that I should have noticed more.

Then he remembered Clark’s ill appearance when Lex had untied him from the scarecrow, and again when he had tried to hand back Lana’s necklace to him before he’d closed the lead box, and he suppressed a shudder.

He hoped to god he was wrong about that; the meteor rock was all over town. And it had come down in the shower that had brought the alien; what kind of being would bring its own destruction with it? Or send it with another. He resolved to never find out the answers to any of those questions if at all possible. …Not unless Clark needed rescuing from his alien-other… self? …Lex hoped that no other aliens would come calling. Possibly yet more wishful thinking on his part. He’d have to take a closer look at the pictures and radar imaging of the shower itself in the near future, discreetly. And start paying attention to the space weather reports, and the Deep Space Network radar data.

Clark held the brightly-lit lantern up to his face and Lex saw his eyes go back to their normal green-blue when the brighter light hit them. Clark looked over at Lex, worried still, and Lex nodded. Clark almost seemed to collapse at the ‘all clear’, and his shoulders dropped completely.

Lex closed his eyes, sighed, then met Clark’s gaze again and motioned him over.

Clark looked puzzled, and still a little nervous, but he came right over. He dropped right down next to Lex, back to the door, pulled his knees up slightly, unconsciously mirroring Lex’s pose, and put the lantern between them.

Lex picked up the lantern and blew the candle out.

Clark made a wordless exclamation.

Lex simply set it back down and then leaned into his friend’s shoulder.

“…Lex? But—“ He sounded so confused.

“Clark, don’t worry about it, ok?”

“But I can’t… people will…”

“It’s just in near-darkness. Your eyes reflect a little like a cat’s in dim light, I think.”

“But they need to not do that. I didn’t even know,” he said, tightly clenching his fists over his knees. Lex realized that he’d never seen Clark clench anything in his fists when he did that.

“So? We’ll figure it out.”

Pause.

“Or you will,” Lex sighed. “Just get a flashlight, a dark room, and a mirror. Point it towards or away from your face, and see if things look different in the mirror, and how and when they change.”

“Oh,” came the soft reply.

Lex, feeling a little braver now, lay his hand over one of Clark’s fists. He felt Clark shift slightly and gently intertwine their fingers, grasping him back.

“Lex?”

“Hm?”

“Thanks for telling me,” Clark said softly.

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?” Lex waved off.

“…Mom and dad never said anything,” Clark replied so quietly Lex had to strain to hear.

“Well, perhaps it’s recent.” And that was probably the most inane thing he’d said yet tonight, right up there with wanting life to be fair.

“Maybe, I guess.”

Lex shut his eyes. The fact that Clark took that seriously does not bode well, I think. Does that mean he grows into things?

And that sent his mind off to the last place he had wanted to go.

He slowly leaned his head against Clark’s shoulder and took his time turning over everything he’d said earlier. Then he moved it two steps to the left of third-person, closed his eyes, and clenched his jaw as he fought the urge to throttle the boy sitting next to him.

Do I look as human as you do?

What if it was yours?

After a long silence and a lot of courage:

“Lex? Are you… I mean, did you…?” He heard Clark audibly gulp.

Did I what, Clark? Did I figure it out? Did I figure you out?

…No, not for sure. Not yet. Because the meteor rocks did things that made no sense, that were insane, too. He didn’t want to think what it might mean for some indeterminate number of members of an alien race to have shoved a baby into a space capsule and tossed it onto a primitive planet out in the middle of nowhere -- because as far as space went, this neighborhood was Smallville, not Metropolis. He didn’t want to think about why anyone would do that, or whether the aliens that did it might have been the same or different race as the baby they had sent. He didn’t want to think that Clark might be a cuckoo, or a biological weapon, or anything other than a person and a good human being and his friend. Everything else was either too sad or too scary for him to handle right now.

But that was Occam’s razor, the shortest path. If it had been a smaller symbiote or parasite, and not an entire small person, the basket-sized area of the spaceship should have been able to hold multitudes, and life around here would be a lot weirder than it was. If it had been a pathogen or some small alien being that was causing the meteor mutations, rather than the radiation from the rocks themselves, the doctors at Belle Reeve and the other hospital staff assigned to the meteor freak cases would have found evidence of such by now, not the other way around. …And if he was supposed to be a weapon of some sort, it would make sense that he should blend, but not to send material along that could make him sick, or possibly kill him. And to send a child that would have to grow before being able to wreak havoc, and have no memories of what it was supposed to do? Ludicrous.

But who the hell would do that to Clark? To a baby-Clark?

A monster who he was better off without.

Damn them all. Clark would keep Lex safe on Earth, and Lex would keep Clark safe from the rest of the universe in return. He’d wipe all the bastards back to their respective Stone Ages for him, if that was what it took.

…And if those monsters from the endless night of deep space ever came a-calling to snatch him back, Lex would show them exactly how scary a possessive, pissed off Luthor could be.

…And he could start by not completely freaking out when trying to walk past Clark’s spaceship in the dark.

Baby steps, you silly little human. Figure out how to stop, and help, the meteor freaks before all that. Let’s fix the town first before taking on the entire universe, shall we?

Lex let out a shaky breath that became another weak coughing jag, and Clark rubbed his back again, just like before.

When he’d calmed down again, Lex shifted slightly and put his head down on Clark’s shoulder, fighting off tears.

“Lex?” Clark whispered, raising a hand to softly stroke the back of his neck.

“I just… need a minute. I’ve had a really hard day,” Lex whispered back, rough-voiced.

“Yeah. Me too.” And Clark gently maneuvered him into a no-holds-barred hug.

Lex silently cried into his friend’s shoulder. Someday, they would talk about this. Someday, they would both be ready. Not today, though, and not tomorrow, but someday.

He finally began to understand the difference between the theory of alien life existing, and what it actually meant to truly know it, up close and personal. He started to get an inkling of what might happen if the knowledge became widespread, and knew why the Kents had been both so reckless and yet so careful. Lex knew, and he was thankful that he was home.