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Paying the Piper

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Paying the Piper

by Artemis


Disclaimers: I don't own the pretty boys or their friends in the Smallville and Gotham universes. If I did, the CLex would be riftless and eternally in love. Neither money nor profits were made in the creation or posting of this story. Rating: R
Spoilers: Season 1. 1st Half Season 2. Challenge: CLex Fest Wave 7: The First Line... "Lex, this club is full of guys, and no girls." Warnings: Same Sex (MALE/MALE) relationship. If this turns you off or offends, go back now. Author Notes: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. DO NOT READ IF YOU WANT TO READ THE STORY UNSPOILED. This story is an off-shoot of the series about mid-second season, so it's an alternative universe. Lucas is still running around somewhere and Clark did tentatively sort-of date Lana his sophomore year, but no evil Jor-El, no evil Helen, no evil Lionel---other than his usual Machiavellian self. Clark is still pretty much in the dark about where he comes from and why he was sent away, and Martha is still hiding the key to the ship in the flour canister. Clark and Lex have become better, closer friends in the last half of the year versus the distance shown in canon. And Whitney is alive, though he's still out there playing soldier boy. He deserved a better end than being a red shirt---Star Trek reference for anyone who hasn't heard it before that meant he was just cannon fodder. Thanks go to my beta Rogue. January 2004. Archive Note: Minor grammatical corrections were made to this story from the version posted at the CLexFest Wave 7 Challenge.


Paying the Piper
By Artemis
1st in the Awakening Series
January 2004


"Lex, this club is full of guys, and no girls."

Lex cringed internally at Clark's query, his sweet, euphonious voice full of confusion and insecurity. He looked back over his shoulder and saw that impossibly beautiful face flickering between hesitation and shock---a face Lex still saw in his dreams; dreams where he relived their encounter on a bridge and the riverbank he woke up on with brackish water in his mouth, the ghostly imprint of warm lips on his own, and the sight of what he'd believed to be an angel kneeling over him.

The angel part might have been wrong, but the boy truly looked the part with high cheekbones, full pouty lips most women would happily kill for, big green eyes framed by long dark lashes, and miles of golden skin on a body worthy of a Greek god. Though he didn't totally discount his initial perceptions. Clark Kent was much more than a seventeen-year-old boy with a Lancelot complex and a soft spot for rescuing a particular dark-haired maiden. He had many special abilities that Lex had witnessed either personally or seen proof of during various investigations of his strange, possibly even paranormal, new town. He had several existing theories on why his own self-appointed guardian angel had metaphysical or metahuman abilities, and while he didn't believe his angel hypothesis had a high probability of being correct, he wouldn't completely discount it until it could be proven false.

Or one of the other theories proven true.

He knew it was only a matter of time before he either had validation of the truth or Clark finally came to the realization that he could trust Lex. With his secrets. And with his life.

While Lex was at times impatient for Clark to realize just how unwaveringly loyal he was---after all, he'd killed a man for Clark---he had to admit that there was a clandestine, vicarious thread of relish in not quite knowing the truth, in having all sorts of fanciful and fantastical daydreams about just what sort of something wonderful the raven-haired beauty might be. As much as he wanted to know the truth, both for the sake of satisfying his insatiable curiosity and to be given that ultimate proof of faith, he liked being able to speculate just what manner of extraordinary his best friend could be.

As unlikely as it was, he could admit privately to himself that in spite of his normally rather derisive skepticism towards organized religion, a small part of him---the same whimsical part that had wished at the age of ten that he was Warrior Angel, the same part that still loved to read comic books and watch anime---found it extremely appealing that perhaps Clark really was an earth-bound angel. Someone sent, maybe, by his mom to watch over him.

Someone sent so he wouldn't be alone.

Someone just for him.

Lex squeezed his eyes shut, pushing that thought away. He didn't have time for senseless sentimentality.

Clark was looking around the dark club, moss green eyes as big as saucers, and those sinful lips open in a perpetual gasp of disbelief. Even in the dim lighting of the club, Lex could see cheeks painted a becoming pink, which only served to enhance and complement his dark coloring, as Clark got his first eyeful of a nightlife he probably hadn't ever realized existed. Hell, knowing the naivete of his farmboy and how pathologically sheltered he'd been raised by the Kents, there was a very, very good chance Clark hadn't even realized yet that this was a club where only men were allowed entrance for a very good reason.

Lex snorted to himself. He wasn't even sure that Clark knew that men could fuck other men. He wouldn't put it past Papa Kent to have raised his little boy to believe that all good boys and girls paired up for procreation like one big happy ark of morally righteousness breeders, so that the very idea of anything else would be unimaginable. Literally.

"Lex?"

Lex felt his face want to break out of its usual impassiveness and into a snarl as he saw heads turn and eyes focus in like lasers onto Clark as his voice---small and tentative, with just a tremble of something like uncertainty or fear, yet as sweet as honey and sunshine---seemed to cleave through the darkness like a shaft of light. It seemed he wasn't the only one to notice just how pretty Clark looked, blushing and big-eyed, even as the boy seemed to shrink down into himself at the attention that was suddenly being cast his way.

Fresh meat.

Virgin meat.

Fuck.

And Clark's clothes weren't helping. Worn jeans and the loose royal blue t-shirt---Lex had made him leave the flannel shirt in the car, knowing it would draw unwanted attention---only made his innocence stand out more in a sea of leather, skin, and flash. Lex himself, reformed bad boy that he was, still had moments of temptation where he wanted to claim that innocence for his own. It wasn't a huge revelation that there were those here that would probably sell their souls for a chance to have Clark.

"It's okay, Clark. We'll be out of here within minutes." Lex stopped, waiting for Clark to get closer, and cursed Andy to Dante's ninth circle of hell for getting him in this situation.

Fuck, while he was at it, he might as well curse the fucking universe. It seemed to want to screw him over every fucking chance it got.

Lex reached back, grabbing Clark's hand, and tried to smile reassuringly at the surprised look that bloomed on Clark's face. Not quite the circumstances he'd imagined for holding hands with the boy he'd fallen in love with, but then this wasn't about fantastical dreams about true loves and happily ever afters. Those type of things, along with holding hands and sweet kisses under the stars, had nothing to do with real life unless it was seen in a movie. He gripped Clark tightly, pulling him close until their bodies were almost flush, and leaned in to speak directly into the nearest ear. He didn't bother to shout, even though the music was pounding, trusting that Clark's sensitive ears would pick up his voice.

"Keep a hold of me and stay close. It's busier than I'd thought it would be this early in the evening, and it'll be safer this way. We don't want to be separated." Lex squeezed Clark's hand and started forward again, weaving his way slowly though the crowd.

He made sure to keep Clark practically at his heels, tugging on the boy's hand if he started to lag or stare at something too long. Clark's gaze kept being drawn to the dance floor where beautiful and attractive men were dancing, writhing in abandonment and self-gratification, as they seduced with their bodies in acts of blatant sensuality. Lex could even make out a few forms coupling in the darkest corners of the club, as well as a few exhibitionists dry fucking amidst all the dancing bodies.

Piper's was the most exclusive men's club in Metropolis---a trendy way to market the gay club---with only the ultra wealthy and the extremely beautiful allowed within its inner sanctum. Bodies perfected by health clubs and years of personal trainers were shown off with tight shirts, leathers that molded to the form, and some who were wearing little more than straps of material. Tastefully elegant, reeking of sin and sex, it was one of the hottest spots in Metropolis to party, whether you were straight, bi, or gay. Nearly anything could be bought and sold within these walls, whether it was drugs, sex, or merely a good time.

It was a particular favorite of Andy's, especially when the McGregor brothers held court. Drugs and gambling were just the start of the vices the McGregors could pamper to if you had the money to indulge. And Andy liked to indulge.

Lex tightened his grip on Clark's hand when Lex noticed Clark gaping at a slender blond man giving an older brunette a lap dance at a nearby table, the brunette's head thrown back in near orgasm. Huge eyes turned towards him, causing him to curse Andy again.

Fuck. He never should have brought Clark here.

But it was too late now and the damage was done. He could only move forward, finish his errand, and try to get Clark out as quickly as possible. He'd concentrate on damage control once they got out of here and back to the penthouse.

It was just a pity he couldn't have left Clark in the car. However, he knew the area well enough to know that someone would have propositioned the teen, thinking he was local trade or that he could be lured away from his date for the right price. Lex hadn't wanted Clark to hear some bastard's proposal for all the ways that pretty mouth could be put to use. Clark was better than that, and he didn't deserve to be treated like a whore.

The thought of anyone treating Clark as anything less than royalty was an affront and made him want to rend and slash the perpetrator into ribbons.

Which was why he needed to get Clark out of here. To the superficial fools here, who could only see the surface beauty and wouldn't bother to look for the inner beauty that far outshone the magnificent exterior, Clark was merely a pretty possession, a bauble to use and throw away.

They didn't deserve to breath the same air as Clark.

His eyes darted around them, searching for Andy's chestnut hair, and he asked, "You okay back there?" He couldn't stop the half-smile that formed at the dazed nod he received in reply. Damn, but the boy seemed to somehow slip effortlessly between adorable and sexy, causing Lex to oscillate between wanting to coddle the boy and pouncing on him. Despite the warmth pooling in his chest at the endearing Clarkian behavior or the warm palm in his grasp, he kept up his vigilance.

He was keeping a sharp eye on everyone around them; he'd been in the club scene too long and knew exactly what sort of people populated the circuit. He glared at anyone who sent any lusty looks or nonverbal invitations to the teenager, dire promises clear in his eyes. He was confident enough that he'd be recognized by most and that his proprietary gesture of holding onto Clark would send a clear message.

Hell, he wasn't exactly known for being territorial, so his blatant "back the fuck off" handholding should keep the predators at bay.

Because if any guy so much as dared to touch Clark, Lex would break his hand.

And yes, Lex knew he had farmboy issues, especially improper and inappropriately primitive feelings of possessiveness. Not to mention the atypical fierce protective instincts Clark seemed to bring out in him.

Alexander J. Luthor protective? And of all things, innocence?

His father would be appalled.

Hell, he was appalled when he allowed himself to think about it too closely. However, he'd resigned himself in that first year to the fact that Clark was a weakness that would be allowed to remain in his life because he couldn't and wouldn't permit the raven-haired youth to not be within his immediate sphere.

Clark was essential.

This night, on the other hand, was not, and it was turning out to be a nightmare of epic proportions.

He hadn't believed it when Martha and Jonathan Kent actually gave him permission to bring Clark up for a weekend in Metropolis. LuthorCorp, through the Lillian Luthor Arts Foundation, was sponsoring the Chinese National Ballet troupe for an American tour, and they were only in town this week before moving onto Houston. Clark had mentioned over Christmas break that he'd never been to any type of theatre production, other than the yearly school play, so Lex had decided it was an opportunity Clark shouldn't miss. Even if the teenager hated it, at least he'd know after having the chance to see one of the world's best ballet troupes, and he could give an informed opinion on why he disliked it.

He'd mentioned it to Clark, who'd predictably been thrilled at the chance for a weekend getaway from his parents to spend in the big city even if he had to go to something as potentially stuffy-worthy as the ballet. Clark had practically bounced on his toes that entire day after being asked. Lex had thought his parents would be the hard sell, but surprisingly Martha had merely told Lex that they'd think it over. The next day, Clark had come rushing into the office, a whirlwind of gleeful delight, as he'd excitedly told Lex he could go.

They'd driven up earlier in the black Porsche, Lex picking up Clark directly from school so they could get to Metropolis before six. Clark had been in a state of near bliss during the three hours driving up because Lex had let him drive. After dropping off their bags at the penthouse---there was no way he was staying at the manor with his father---they'd gone out for dinner and a movie.

They'd been driving back to the penthouse when Andy had called.

Lex whirled around and his left hand shot out, reflexes just a little too quick for a normal human but Lex really didn't care what anyone thought, and he seized onto the thick wrist that he'd seen moving in his peripheral vision. He used his right hand to pull Clark in behind him, and he squeezed viciously into what he knew was a painful hold for the asshole that tried to grab Clark's ass. His blue-grey eyes grew glacial cold, and he went completely still. He said in a very low, smooth voice, "You really shouldn't have done that."

Drunken laughter met his warning, the guy obviously too stupid or too wasted to feel much pain or even realize that with a quick flick of movement, Lex could break his wrist. Lex really had no tolerance for stupid people.

"Buddy, lighten up," the man slurred, brown eyes moving hungrily over Lex's shoulder. He shook his hand slightly, and when Lex didn't release him, he merely grinned wolfishly. "I just wanted to touch. Such a pretty thing wouldn't mind a little appreciation, would he?"

Lex's eyes narrowed.

"Besides, maybe your boy there would like to try a threesome." The idiot's other hand reached out, caressing Lex's left hand and moving slowly up his arm beneath his sleeve. "I'd love to see him on his knees, you taking him while he has those pretty lips wrapped around my---"

"Shut the fuck up," Lex hissed, cutting the bastard off before he could finish his sentence. He heard a gasp behind him as Clark obviously got the picture. "You say another word about him and I'll rip out your tongue and shove it up your ass."

He shook off the idiot's pawing hand, releasing the wrist, wanting nothing more than to wash off the filth crawling on his skin. He didn't like to be touched, and most people were intelligent enough not to take such liberties. However, it enraged him to think that maybe Clark might feel equally as dirty after hearing about this bastard's little fantasy. He felt his right hand squeezed tightly and a hand placed on his right shoulder, and he lost it as he realized that Clark's hands were trembling.

His free hand shot out again, grabbing the idiot's neck in a firm grip around the front of his throat. He pulled the inebriated son of a bitch forward, the bulky mass of the man who probably outweighed him by at least fifty pounds not a problem. The Luthor freak might be bald, but the meteors had gifted him with an agility and strength beyond human norms.

Of course, it paled in comparison to Clark or many of the other Smallville mutants---human or non-human---when it came to raw strength or speed, but it gave him an advantage when others underestimated him due to his slender build.

Not to mention the advantage of years of martial arts and kickboxing, as well as that very interesting summer spent at Wayne Manor with Bruce and a former Navy SEAL.

He tightened his fingers slowly, leaning forward aggressively. The smells of vodka and sweat hit him, and he barely restrained himself from giving into his darker impulse by crushing the bastard's windpipe and just tossing him aside. He could feel the stares of the men around him, but he really didn't give a shit at the moment for whatever audience was watching. In fact, maybe they'd get the idea very quickly not to touch what was his if he provided a little demonstration. He didn't even notice the two sweaty hands that had come up to paw at his wrist as he bit out, "You're going to apologize to my friend, and then you're---"

"Mr. Luthor, is this gentleman distressing you?"

Lex's gaze flicked over to his left and his face smoothed out as he let go of the idiot immediately, pushing him away, the message clear that he thought the imbecile beneath him. He ignored the coughing coming from the man, straightening in a way that his form seemed to flow back to a stance of idle disregard, though his eyes were anything but.

"Tony, it's good to see you again." He inclined his head slightly, a nod of acknowledgement, then curled his lips slightly. "I want this...gentleman removed immediately." The sneer as he said 'gentleman' made it apparent exactly what sort of treatment he preferred the man get.

"Hey!! Wait a second! I didn't do anything but proposition his slut for a little fu---"

Lex's hand was wrapped around the fucker's throat, and it was only Clark's hand wrapped lightly around his wrist that stopped him from doing anything permanently damaging.

"Please. Lex."

Clark was pressed flush against his back, the boy practically wrapped around him in order to reach his wrist. He was trying to pull Lex back, though he wasn't using nearly enough force to move them. His voice was shaky, and Lex felt something inside him break as he realized that the warm body was trembling. He let his hand loosen slowly, and then release completely.

"It's okay," Lex said, not really sure if he was reassuring himself or Clark. He moved back a little, and he felt Clark relax and back off. He felt a stab of loss at the warmth against his back disappearing, which was followed by a larger stab of guilt and self-disgust for even thinking like that. Clark was his friend, his very young, very impressionable, very heterosexual best friend. An emphasis on young. Very young. And heterosexual. He'd brought Clark into a situation that the boy never should have been placed in or seen.

He looked over, seeing the owner of the club waiting. At five ten, sandy blond hair, and an average build, Tony Michels was often overlooked in the middle of a club where men flaunted what they had and many had the money to cosmetically enhance---through surgery or other means---what they didn't. He was also one of the most unthreatening men Lex had ever met, exuding an air of pleasantness and charm that screamed, 'I'm your best friend'. It made him a very successful club owner, Pied Piper being one of his many nightspots that he owned in Metropolis and throughout Kansas. However, Lex knew that Tony was as ruthless as any other successful businessman, and as such he was a man who knew how to treat his best customers.

Tony signaled briefly, and two bouncers who were behind the blond immediately stepped forward, each grabbing onto an arm and hauling the guy up.

"You can't do this! Do you have any idea who I am?" the drunk demanded with indignation, his words still slurred by intoxication. "So I wanted to touch a little, maybe offer to have a little fun. I---"

The man's voice faded away as the bouncers dragged him off. With a cold sweeping look from Lex, the people immediately around them got back to talking and drinking. The wake that had formed to allow the two bouncers room to cart their target off was immediately filled back up with bodies and laughter. Lex could hear some people whispering, the phrases "Don't fuck with a Luthor" and "the Lex Luthor" popping up, but he ignored it.

A trait he'd learned by the time he'd turned eight.

"Mr. Luthor, I apologize that such a disgrace should take place in our club. I assure you, he won't be allowed on the premises again." Tony stepped closer, face conveying nothing but warmth and sincerity, though his eyes watched Lex anxiously.

Lex frowned.

"And I apologize to your guest for having to put up with such a tawdry display of crudeness. I hope you don't judge Piper's clientele based on this one experience," the man finished smoothly, looking at Clark. His gaze moved back to Lex, and he asked, "Mr. Luthor, is there anything I can help you with tonight? Or perhaps I can arrange for one of the upstairs rooms to be available, compliments of the house for this unfortunate altercation? Perhaps your favorite on the fourth floor?"

Lex shook his head. Christ, he wished that hadn't been asked. He just knew seventeen-year-old ears were listening too closely. "No, I'm actually here looking for someone. Have you seen Andrew Gentres tonight?"

"Yes, I believe Mr. Gentres is on the third level. I can locate him if you wish."

Lex looked at Tony thoughtfully, thinking. Maybe he could contain the damage done here tonight. Decision made, he nodded, "I'd also like Clark to wait in your office until my business is concluded. As well as someone outside the door to ensure his...privacy."

More like safety, but Clark really didn't need to know that. Most teenagers really didn't appreciate being treated like kids, and even if Lex rarely treated him like the youth he was, Lex definitely wasn't up for Clark getting a look at the upper levels.

Tony nodded, pressing a button on the band on his wrist and speaking to the headset that was barely visible in his right ear. Lex knew all the security and staff had one to keep in constant and immediate contact. The service here was incredible and nearly instantaneous. One of the reasons the elite of Metropolis flocked in droves to Piper's, as well as Tony's other two clubs: Pied Piper's female counterpart Bacchae and his more traditional night club Dionysus.

It also hadn't hurt that when Piper's had first opened eight years ago, it had been one of Lex's favorite clubs to party at during his breaks from boarding school. And back then, where Lex went, the rest of his set went. Nobody partied like a Luthor, and Lex had always excelled at everything he did. Which made him a particular favorite at both of the establishments he'd patroned.

"Lex," Clark said, tugging on Lex's sleeve. "I want to stay with you."

Lex turned around. He almost flinched at the emotions flitting though Clark's eyes, the most prevalent being fear. Shit, this wasn't exactly the sort of education he'd brought Clark up to Metropolis for, and he knew the probability of ever being allowed to bring Clark anywhere would be nonexistent when the Kents heard about this fiasco.

If the Kents heard about it.

He could still turn this around, and as long as Clark was kept fairly ignorant of the nature of this club, as well as some of the darker entertainments to be had, he could extract Clark from the building with only a few mild tales that would seem wild to the boy's friends. And surely Clark would realize on his own that any whispers of clubs and Metropolis nightlife to his parents would seal whatever chance Clark had of leaving the farm during his last two years of high school.

The boy lived like a sequestered monk as it was. Surely he wouldn't exacerbate his situation.

"Clark, it's better if you wait somewhere private. I only need to speak to Andy for a few minutes." He tried to smile reassuringly at Clark, but he could only assume he failed from the frown that formed on Clark's face. He ignored his first impulse to raise his hand and smooth out the small lines that formed between the dark eyebrows.

"I don't want to wait in some office," Clark said quietly, inching closer as he noticed people unashamedly watching them. He murmured, "I thought you said it was better if we stayed together. I...I don't like how everyone is looking at you."

"What do you mean?"

"I-I don't...I don't know," Clark stammered. Confusion whirled in his eyes. "I...they keep watching...you. Us. I j-just...I just don't like it."

Lex's heart clenched at the insecurity and timidity in a voice that was normally so strong and sure. Even when Clark was so uncertain of Lana's regard or his place in the world, he was confident of himself and his abilities. It was only one of many dichotomies that made up Clark Kent that fascinated and drew Lex to him over and over again.

Like a moth to a flame, Lex couldn't help himself from returning to the boy who could rain down hurtful, lacerating accusations when cornered or when the lies that he spun were threatened. Wounds that ripped and tore as deep into his soul as the ones his father delivered, and like his father, never a word of apology or remorse was ever uttered. This same boy was also the center of all that was strange and dangerous in Smallville, and Lex had lost count of the number of times his life had been endangered just by remaining within orbit of this miraculous, beautiful creature.

Clark was his own personal siren, one who had sharp teeth and sharper claws. Who knew how to use them best to hurt and maim, who knew all of Lex's soft spots and just how to draw blood. A siren who Lex knew would inevitably lead him to his own death if he wasn't careful because meteor-mutated humans died around Clark, because of Clark, on a regular basis. Sooner or later, it would be his turn. And still he couldn't help himself, even knowing that his savior was also his Achilles' heel.

Even knowing that allowing Clark to remain in his life would either bring unending light to his life or a darkness he would never be able to pull himself out of couldn't keep him away.

Even knowing that Clark could mean his own death.

"Lex?"

Clark's voice drew him back to the present, classic alliterations and dark conjectures of doom fleeing into the back of his mind. His eyes softened, and he stepped closer, squeezing the hand he still held in his hand gently. "It'll only take a few minutes. I need to find my friend, and then we'll get out of here. Tony will make sure you have everything you need. Maybe a Coke and something to eat. There's a small kitchen in back for employees, so perhaps something could be prepared for you."

"Of course," a low tenor broke in. "The kitchen is preparing a light meal as we speak. We'll take good care of him for you, Mr. Luthor, and Mike and I will take you to Mr. Gentres immediately."

Lex looked over his shoulder to see Tony looking at him mildly, no hint of censure or speculation in his gaze. The man was a consummate professional. A large black man with a shaved head, probably the largest man Lex had ever seen with muscles bulging out almost obscenely and who must've topped at least seven feet, stood at Tony's side.

Tony nodded slightly, following Lex's gaze. "This is David. He'll escort your guest to my office and will see to his needs. And privacy."

From the way 'privacy' was said, Lex knew that his message had been picked up clearly by the club's owner on what kind of service was being requested. Lex raised his eyebrows as he looked up at Clark's apparent bodyguard, and he let a small smile of appreciation tilt his mouth up. He had to admit, there was no way in hell he'd try to mess with the man if he had a choice, so Clark should be safe in his charge. He should have this whole mess sorted out within fifteen minutes, and then they could leave.

"Lex, I don't want---"

Lex cut Clark off, ignoring him, as he talked to the blond waiting patiently behind him. "I'd prefer to escort him to the office as well. Andy can wait a few moments."

"But I---"

"Of course, Mr. Luthor."

Tony and Clark simultaneously responded, and Lex cut Clark off again by saying, "Clark. Humor me." He tightened his grip on Clark's hand, and he lifted his left hand to set it gently on Clark's right shoulder. He indulged himself, slightly, by letting his fingers brush Clark's neck lightly, the dark curls just brushing his fingertips. Not quite a platonic grip, but it could easily be interpreted as an accidental touch rather than the almost-caress it was.

He said softly, murmuring quietly enough that only Clark could hear, "I'll be fine. I know it seems...strange...and the people...different. But I used to come here before my exile," he said calmly, a smile in his voice as he made light of his banishment to the backfields of nowhere. He remembered Clark's earlier words, and he tried to soothe the understandable fear of the unknown. "If people are looking at me, it's because I'm Lex Luthor. And I haven't been seen here for a while. I assure you, I'm perfectly safe. It was...unfortunate. What happened earlier."

He knew his voice was a touch too warm, his clasp on Clark's neck and shoulder just a bit too tender, but he had complete confidence in the utter oblivion that made up Clark's world. Like Lana, Clark had the unique ability to translate the entire world around him in terms he could accept, transmogrifying reality into a vision of his own desire with himself as the center of everything and everyone. If Lex wasn't so madly in love with the teenager, and if Clark---and Lana, for that matter---wasn't so sweet almost to the point of saccharine, he probably would have found this egotistical self-centeredness to be insufferable.

The hell of it all was that as self-centered as Clark and Lana both were, anyone who met either teenager had to admit they were also incredibly selfless.

Yet another dichotomy, and one that made most people who knew both teens feel both overwhelming affection for and the occasional irritation towards the pair. Because as much as they translated everything in terms of themselves, they freely and unselfishly gave their time and help if someone was in need.

Lex had even gotten to the point that he actually liked having Lana as a business partner, and he almost didn't resent her for Clark's unflagging devotion. He was actually accustomed to trying to pair the two up, trying to win Clark the hand and heart of his fair lady, even as Clark continually messed up whatever Lex set in motion.

Some things were just constants in the universe. Clark messing up with the fairer sex was one of them.

"Hey," he murmured, wanting to banish the unhappiness in Clark's face. "This will only take fifteen minutes. Then we'll head back to the penthouse, and we can have a movie marathon if you like. You can even pick out the movies. I'll make popcorn, and we can dig around and see what kind of junk food the housekeeper left for us."

"O-okay," Clark said, trying to smile, even if it was a bit wobbly.

Lex squeezed Clark's shoulder one last time, brushing his fingers across the soft skin of Clark's nape as he removed his hand, and he tugged on the hand he still held, signaling Tony to lead the way to the back offices. He pulled Clark behind him, still vigilant of his surroundings, but more secure now that two of the club's security personnel were behind them.

Fifteen minutes, and he'd have taken care of Andy and they could go back to their frivolous weekend in Metropolis.


Clark prowled around the huge office, his pacing starting to get on his own nerves, but unsure what else to do. He'd been repeating the same circuit over and over, from the thick steel door, past the bookcases and electronic equipment on his right, to the desk on the far wall, coming back past the nook with the sofas and coffee table on the opposite side, and returning to the door. He'd already glanced at all the books on the shelves, not really in the mood to read anything and his mind too chaotic to be distracted by the written word.

He eyed the spiraling staircase as he passed it, but it was only a cursory glance. He'd already used his x-ray vision to see where it led, which was to a huge bedroom above with even more entertainment equipment. Not to mention a bathroom that was larger than his bedroom.

He let out a huge sigh, and he threw himself down into the plush black cushions in a sloppy sprawl. He glared at the Mountain Dew on the coffee table, the ice cubes causing condensation on the outside of the glass to drip down and soak into the napkin underneath it. Not that he expected to be served a drink, though he knew if he asked, he doubted David would deny him. It had been made clear to him, before that Tony guy and Lex abandoned him, that anything he asked for would be given to him.

He knew he was pouting, something he blamed on being a single child he told snidely to his inner Chloe who was currently making him fun of him for acting like a spoiled brat. He just drooped further into the sofa, staring at the half-drunk soda and empty plates sullenly.

He'd been escorted to the back office by Lex like he was some sort of child, hand held like he might get lost if he was let out of sight for even a moment. He'd been left with a metaphorical pat on the head after being told to stay like a good boy and to behave. And worse, he was given a late supper as if that would distract him! Like all he did was think with his stomach!

He let out a huff of frustration.

He knew he wasn't being fair. He knew Lex didn't mean it like that, knew that he wasn't really being treated like a five-year-old. If he was going to be completely honest with himself, not that he wanted to be, he was actually being treated like a Luthor. Like he was important.

He knew that if he decided that he wanted a drink and not pop, he'd be given one. Regardless of his age. If he wanted the TV from upstairs brought down so he could watch it, he didn't have any doubts that David would immediately make it happen. And if he wanted another piece of chocolate cake, his keeper would have the rest of the cake delivered within minutes.

Because he wasn't stupid, no matter what everyone seemed to think. He knew David wasn't standing outside the door like some sort of sentry at Windsor palace because of privacy. Just like Lex holding his hand hadn't been about them getting separated, and Lex almost pulverizing that guy hadn't been about...well, about whatever Lex seemed to think dense, clueless Clark thought it was about.

He scowled. He was tired of everyone thinking he was some sort of dumb himbo. It wasn't like he gave off 'dumb blond' vibes. Was it?

He didn't come off as some sort of airhead, did he?

Like that Cher chick in Clueless or Elle Woods in Legally Blonde?

He felt a fission of guilt at the thought, knowing how Chloe would take the comparison. But was it his fault that American society coined the phrase and kept the perception? No, it wasn't.

He stuck his tongue out, not caring how immature it felt. No one was around, and it made him feel better. If he wanted to stick his tongue out at an imaginary Lex for being such an overprotective idiot than he could.

It wasn't like he even needed protection. He was seventeen years old. Almost a man! So what if he was just a sophomore in high school. He'd be a junior in a week when school let out. Technically, he'd be an adult in one year! And he was like a super-powered, kick-ass alien! Like he needed protection!

A tendril of unease wound through his mind, and he let out a little shiver.

It wasn't like he'd been scared or anything. Because, hello! Super-powered, invulnerable alien here! But...Clark had to admit that he'd felt kinda...self-conscious. Maybe even...intimidated.

Lex had been pretty mad in the car. His friend, Andy something-or-other, had needed help right away, and Lex hadn't wanted to take Clark to the club. He'd simply told Clark that his parents wouldn't be happy, presumably to soothe any offense that might be perceived in not wanting to take Clark along.

He was still pretty leery of having to go back out there, even as he desperately wanted to be with Lex. From the moment they'd stepped into the dark club, the music vibrating in the air, he'd felt like he was under a magnifying glass. After a lifetime of being ignored, it was unnerving at the very least. Everyone around them seemed to be staring at them, and he'd heard a few people commenting about either him or Lex.

Not that he'd ever admit it, but it had actually been reassuring to have Lex's hand to hold onto. Some of the stares he'd received had made him feel...uncomfortable. It had made his stomach fluttery and queasy, and he'd wished he'd still had his flannel overshirt because it would have made him feel a little more secure to have another layer on. Because the men in the club, dressed like they do in the movies in club scenes in a riot of colors and expensive materials, had looked at him as intensely as Lex sometimes did.

Only, when Lex looked at him, it made him feel good. Flattering. That someone like Lex, who was so smart, and so rich, and so unbelievably cool and sophisticated, that someone like that could look at him like Clark was the only thing in Lex's world that mattered at that one moment in time.

The men in the club that had stared at him hadn't made him feel like that at all. They'd made him feel jittery. Jumpy. Like if he stood still, if he got too close, something bad would happen.

And knowing that no one could really hurt him still didn't make that feeling go away. Only Lex did, so he'd been glad Lex had kept close and had kept a hold of him, even if it had made him feel so much younger than Lex.

Maybe that was why Lex had been acting so funny. So overprotective. Like the big brother Clark had never had.

Clark swallowed hard, remembering that man from earlier. He'd clearly been drunk. But his eyes had devoured Clark like he'd wanted to eat him, and he'd touched Lex's arm, caressed Lex's arm, like...like...and the things he'd said. Clark felt his cheeks grow warm as he remembered what that man had asked. About him...on his knees. And Lex...behind.

He hadn't really understood all that, but he knew it was about sex, and maybe he was dumb because he wasn't really sure how two guys did it. And yeah, he could look it up on the Internet, if he could get up the nerve to look it up while in school or at Lex's house. Or Chloe's, though Chloe would want to know why and that was just wrong because he would never hear the end of it, and that was only if Chloe wasn't so disgusted with him that she refused to speak to him ever again.

For being curious.

Because, really, shouldn't he know about this? That was the only reason why he was wondering. Because he didn't know, and he was sure he should know. Right?

Or maybe he shouldn't. Maybe guys didn't know how two guys did it with each other unless they were interested. Which he wasn't. Because that would make him...gay. And he wasn't. Gay.

He wasn't gay. There was no way he was a gay alien. He refused to believe his level of freakishness was even higher than previously thought. And he wasn't curious about how two guys did it, and he wasn't curious about all the things Lex did with other people. With women. Or...guys. If Lex even did it with guys, because he'd never once had another guy at the castle. Doing...that.

And no, he wasn't stalking Lex! He wasn't a stalker. He wasn't. And even if he were, which he wasn't, he wouldn't stalk his best friend. He was just watching out for Lex because mutants and trouble seemed to be attracted to Lex, and so what if he liked to go by the castle every now and then to watch Lex just to make sure Lex was safe?

He was just being a good friend.

Not a stalker.

And he so wasn't going to acknowledge the fact that he'd never liked any of the girls Lex brought to the castle. He was going to ignore just how much he'd hated Victoria, and Desiree, and that stupid Doctor Helen that Lex dated for about a month before dumping her. And he definitely wasn't going to admit how much satisfaction he'd felt when Lex had dumped her after Clark had told Lex just how creepy he thought she was.

He was just looking out for Lex. For his best friend. All those women might have been beautiful, but they all wanted something from Lex. They all had wanted to use him. To manipulate him.

That was all. Really. Honestly.

He sat up, grabbing at the glass on the table and nervously took a sip.

He wasn't dumb. He wasn't.

Not really.

But he honestly hadn't got it. At first.

All the men in the club. No girls. And only guys. They'd been all sorts of ages, from some who looked younger than him to others who were well into their fifties or older. All of them were incredibly attractive. Handsome. Even...beautiful. And that was something that Clark had only thought girls were, until tonight when he's seen all the sleek, beautiful guys dancing and sliding against each other.

Beautiful like Lex.

Lex.

Was...beautiful.

He shied away from that thought, not wanting to examine his sudden epiphany too closely. It was just that Lex had fit here. Fit in here more than he ever did in Smallville, where Lex was like some exotic transplant from lands never before seen by mere mortals.

Even dressed casually in designer jeans that had probably been worn only once and a long sleeved charcoal grey shirt, the Luthor version of slumming it. Lex rarely dressed casually, and Clark had been touched at the effort Lex had gone to, trying to make the weekend laid-back and fun. But Lex fit in with these sleek, beautiful people who dripped sensuality and sex. Only those people on the dance floor, surrounding the bar, they were pale shadows of Lex. As if they were trying to encompass everything that Lex was innately.

Wealth worn indifferently.

Elegance and suave sophistication wrapped up in hedonistic abandon.

And...beauty. Beautiful. The kind that made your breath catch and your eyes linger.

And why had he never noticed that before?

He fingered the glass in his hands uneasily.

Beautiful was something he'd only applied to Lana before. And his mother. Maybe Chloe, in a sisterly sort of way. And all those too-perfect women that surrounded Lex like they'd stepped off the pages of a magazine cover or movie screen.

And now Lex.

He took another sip of his Mountain Dew, the carbonation tickling the back of his throat. He shot a quick glance at the bear of a man in the hall, his eyes flipping easily to x-ray with a thought.

He really wasn't dumb. And he could be an adult. It wasn't so hard to admit that the men in the club had stared at him...like they wanted to have...because they wanted to do it with him.

Sex.

Clark scrunched down further into the sofa.

Okay. So strange men wanted to have...sex...with him. With him. And that was weird and crazy on so many levels. Because, them being guys aside, no one in Smallville wanted anything from Clark. Sex or otherwise. He couldn't even get a girl to go out with him, to maybe hold hands or exchange a nervous first kiss goodnight at her front door.

Jessie didn't really count. Because she'd wanted someone to take her away from all her problems, and he'd been high on red meteor rock. So they'd made out, kissing and stuff. She'd let a bold, un-Clark touch her...breasts. And down there. Which had been nice, and sort of hot, even if it didn't get him excited in that way.

No one got him excited that way, like he was supposed to. Like human boys were supposed to. He'd just assumed during the last year that it was an alien thing. That maybe his people matured differently or something. At least he hoped.

He really, really hoped his people weren't asexual.

Not that he shared this with anyone. He'd die before he talked to his parents again about sex. It had been bad enough the first time when he'd been fourteen, and his parents had sat him down in the living room like some awful After-School special and had The Talk. With pictures and everything out of a book they'd bought, "Sexuality, My Child, and Me" or something equally as lame and dumb that was sold in an evil plot to the masses of gullible adults to embarrass their children. He'd practically choked when his dad had held out a banana and a foil packet with an expectant look.

It had only gotten worse when his mother had held out another foil packet, telling him to do it again so he knew for sure how to do it.

He also hadn't told Chloe---she might be one of his best friends, but she was still a girl---nor had he told Pete. It wasn't exactly the sort of thing a guy admitted to other guys. Especially geeky, non-athletic losers like Clark. Besides, it wasn't like he'd realized he was that different at first. It wasn't like he'd heard locker room talk---at least until he'd joined the football team that one week his freshman year---since his parents wouldn't let him play sports and they'd had him barred from gym class and the playground.

It was only when he was older that he'd found out that they'd given his elementary school a forged note supposedly from a Metropolis doctor to medically excuse Clark from the mandatory class. They'd merely told a confused and hurt six-year-old Clark that he couldn't play with the other kids because he might hurt them, and he hadn't questioned how his parents had accomplished this until after he'd found out about the spaceship.

He hadn't even realized he was abnormal in this aspect until he'd gone over to Pete's one day after school about a month before the Spring Fling his freshman year. Pete had been secretive and excited all day, and he'd giddily shoved Clark into his room where he'd triumphantly brought out a porn video he'd 'borrowed' from one of his brothers. Supposedly to prepare them for their big dates.

It had been educational in one respect, Clark's first glimpse at real sex, and horrifying in another because he'd been confronted with another freak aspect about himself. From Pete's comments, he finally figured out what all those 'boner' or 'woody' comments from the past meant, the ones he always pretended to understand, and afterwards he'd done his own research in the Smallville library---no way was he going to get caught looking up human sexuality at the school library, he was already enough of an outcast---to find out that he'd been missing years of wet dreams, boners, and masturbation.

He could admit it. He'd been really upset that maybe he was too different in some physiologically way, or possibly neurological way, so that he couldn't be sexually attracted to humans. Looking similar on the surface didn't mean that two completely different species could be drawn to each other. To have...sex.

After all, it wasn't like tigers did it with lions or cougars, and at least they were cousin species. He was pretty sure the same couldn't be said for his people and humanity. Even if he did look just like a human boy.

So did Pinocchio, but that didn't make him any more human than Clark.

He'd been seriously depressed after his sixteenth birthday---the entire summer if he was painfully honest with himself---when he'd admitted to himself just how different he was from humans. Not having an erection before, it wasn't like he knew what he was missing, but it was depressing to think he'd always be alone. That he was so different from everyone, he couldn't even connect to them in such a basic way.

Well, there was Lana. Who didn't excite him like that, but she did make him feel all warm and dizzy inside. Lana, who he'd kind of dated a little this year, but not really. Something always seemed to go wrong, with someone needing help or a meteor mutant springing up to interrupt their big moment. Or Lana decided they were better friends, or that she missed Whitney, or Clark shied away because Lana wanted to know why he kept so many secrets. Why he was always so secretive or mysterious, when Whitney had always been so open and honest.

Clark never pointed out in these moments that Whitney hadn't been so damn open and honest when he and his football buddies had stripped him, strung him up on a pole, and left him as their Scarecrow because of some stupid football tradition and some petty jealousy.

Clark had always secretly wondered since that night who his father, the legendary football player that he'd been, had strung up when he'd been in high school. Because he'd been the football god back then and someone else like Clark had been the class misfit. Because in another fit of honesty, he'd admitted to himself that as much as he worshipped his father, at least up until the day Lex had hit him with his car and he'd found out about the lies and betrayal, Jonathan Kent had been the Whitney Fordman of his day.

Clark felt guilt wash over him. For his dad and for Whitney. He was an ungrateful, horrible son and he was an even worse friend.

Whitney was away, fighting in another country, possibly endangering his life, and Clark was moving in on his girl. Yet another reason why Clark hadn't felt quite comfortable with the dates he'd gone on, Lex quietly scheming in the background to help him win Lana's heart, because despite the Scarecrow incident, he'd sort of become friends with Whitney. And Whitney still loved Lana and had no idea that Lana had been having second thoughts all year about whether she still loved him.

He didn't exactly feel great about being Rebound Guy. Or at least almost-Rebound Guy.

And, okay, he'd been kind of delusional and he'd imagined that being Rebound Guy might turn into more. It wasn't so stupid to imagine that if Lana just got to know him, if she just really knew him and realized how much he loved her, then she would love him back.

Like it was supposed to be.

And yes, he realized life wasn't a fairy tale, thank you very much.

And yes, he was mature and smart and definitely not clueless. Clueless Clark, as the kids used to taunt him (and Klutzy Kent, but he really didn't want to recall all his childhood trauma). Because he did finally realize, even if it took a lot of pacing and aggravation towards Lex, that he was in a club with all guys and no girls for a reason. Because girls didn't come to this sort of club because the guys weren't looking for girls.

They were looking for guys. At guys. At Clark.

And Lex. A lot of them had looked at Lex. With envious looks, and jealous looks, and this wasn't so unusual because most people looked at Lex that way. But a lot of hungry looks had been aimed at Lex, too, devouring looks that had swept up and down Lex's body. Eyes lingering on his face and mouth.

He'd heard the whispers at school. In the Talon. At the Farmer's Market on the weekends during the summer and fall. His peers at school and the adults in the community all asking each other just what kind of friendship existed between Lex Luthor and Clark Kent. The sneers by some as they hinted that Lex wanted something more from Clark, something a lot different than friendship. He'd heard the gossip of how decadent the younger Luthor was, how he played on both sides of the fence, and despite all the anorexically-thin beauties that visited the castle, it was really the Kent's only child that repeatedly drew the attention of the very adult Lex Luthor.

Clark had ignored all the insinuations and questioning looks. He'd refused to really understand all the hints and inquiries, feeling as if everyone was trying to dirty his friendship to Lex in whatever way they could. As if they were demeaning their friendship, demeaning Lex, because Lex was rich. Or because Lex was a Luthor. Or simply because Lex was so much more than any of those petty, small-minded people would ever be.

People were always putting Lex down in front of him and around him, as if they were trying to warn him away. As if they cared for Clark, were concerned for Clark, when most of those people had barely acknowledged his existence before Lex Luthor came to town.

So when they'd given him knowing, sneering looks or when they'd belittled and cut down Lex, he'd told himself they were all secretly jealous that out of everyone in the entire town, it was him that Lex had chosen as his friend. Dorky, clumsy Clark Kent. The adopted kid, the strange kid who grew too tall too fast and was too quiet, the poor kid from the Kent Farm, the Kents who thought they were too good for anyone else and stayed isolated up on their farm. Billionaire's son, genius, perfect Lex Luthor had chosen Clark Kent, and it was like in the Valdemar books. Out of everyone in the world, out of all the cities and all the towns, Clark had been chosen and they were all jealous.

So he ignored all of them, even his father, because Lex wasn't anything like they thought. Lex was the most generous person he knew, who gave everything of himself to the people he cared about. And who could blame him for caring for so few people when everyone seemed to want to use him? When so many mocked and scorned him?

Lex was like his brother. His big brother. Who watched out for Clark, and gave him advice when Clark asked, and always tried to give Clark whatever he thought Clark needed.

And if that didn't quite ring true, he ignored it because Lex was like his brother.

He was.

Clark's shoulders fell even as he repeated it once more to himself.


Clark opened the door to see a broad chest move in front of him. He followed the huge chest up, a little disorientated to be looking up at someone for the first time in years, to see a fiercely frowning face. He frowned right back.

"Ummm..." he started nervously, gathering his nerve as he stared up into an impassive expression. He took a deep breath, straightening his spine and imagining that he grew a few inches so he pretend he looked just a little imposing. He demanded, pretending he was Lex and ordering around one of the castle staff, "I want to be taken to Lex. Now."

The muscle-bound behemoth at the door didn't even blink.

Clark lifted his chin stubbornly. "Tony said you would get me whatever I wanted. And I want to be taken to wherever Lex is at."

David continued to stare at him several moments, and then gently nudged Clark back into the office. He said tersely, reaching to shut the door, "I'll check with Mr. Michels."

Clark dug in his heels, grabbing onto the door and not letting it budge, trying to make it seem harder than it really was. "No! I don't care what Mr. Michels says or wishes. He and Lex said I could have anything, and I want to leave this office. Now. And I want to be taken to the third floor to where Lex is at."

The man lifted his dark eyebrows up and looked at Clark coolly. "And what if I was fired because I let Mr. Luthor's personal guest leave the office against Mr. Luthor's wishes?"

Clark hesitated, not thinking of that. Lex did have a bit of temper, sometimes, and he really didn't like it when people did things he told them not to. But he could tell Lex not to get mad at David, or not to let Tony fire the man. Lex would listen to him. Especially if he asked nicely.

Lex always gave him whatever he asked. It was like a thing with Lex. As if giving back the truck meant that Lex had to pay back Clark by giving him other things.

Not that Lex minded helping him out. Lex liked granting him favors. It was Lex's thing. He didn't have anything to feel guilty about.

In fact, he had something to be worried about. Lex was late. He'd been cooped up in this stupid office for over thirty minutes and that meant something was wrong. Which meant he had to find Lex. Now.

Clark shook his head. "I won't let Lex get mad at you. Besides, you can't keep me here if I don't want to stay here. I'm not a prisoner!"

Clark scowled as he saw one side of the man's mouth twist up, amusement flitting through dark brown eyes.

"And I'm not a kid!"

Clark flushed at the chuckle that his automatic denial caused, the man's teeth flashing white in the dim lighting of the hall. His outburst hadn't been on purpose, but he was tired of people treating him like a little kid! He was seventeen!

David chuckled again, mirth dancing in his eyes, as his gravelly voice broke out. "Sure, kid. Whatever you say."

Clark tried to sound more imperious. It always worked for Lex. "I demand to be taken to Lex immediately."

The man just rolled his eyes. "Stay put. I'll check with the boss. It'll only take a minute."

"No!" Clark placed his hand on a thick bicep, stopping David from turning around. He could imagine just what sort of orders Lex had left with the man's boss. He threw pride out the window and pleaded, "Please. It's taking too long. He should have been back a long time ago."

David stopped, looking back with dark eyes that visibly softened as he looked into Clark's face. "He's fine, kid. You'd have to be a fool to mess with a Luthor in this town. Hell, to mess with a Luthor in any town. They aren't exactly the forgiving sort. I'd bet money the guy who caused you problems earlier will be out of a job by noon tomorrow."

Clark blinked at the thought, startled, but shook his head. He wasn't about to be sidetracked. He looked at the man in front of him beseechingly, his hand still on David's arm, "Please. He's...he's my friend. I have to see him. I swear, he won't be mad."

David snorted. "And does that look get you anywhere with Luthor?"

"Please?" Clark tried to look pathetic, this tact obviously working better than trying to act like Lex. He imagined asking his mom for something, or asking a favor from Chloe, and arranged his face to look as pitiful as possible.

David grimaced at the plaintive note. He tried to glare, but faltered as he met big green eyes and pouting lips. Clark's wretchedness was practically dripping from him, it was applied so thick. He started to shake his head, but one look at Clark's face had him sighing.

"Fine. It's your funeral. You make sure Luthor doesn't have me fired, and I'll take you. But I doubt he'll be pleased with you. From what I hear, he's conducting business right now."

Clark looked up hopefully at the serious gaze being directed at him, and he smiled brilliantly. He nodded emphatically. "He won't be mad. I promise."

David only sighed in response. He signaled that Clark should move in front of him, and he ordered in an inflexible voice, "Stay close. You take two steps away from me, and you'll be tossed back in this office faster than you can blink."

Clark nodded, stiffening only for a few seconds as a hand was placed lightly at the small of his back.

"I mean it, kid. You move away from the hand, you're back here until Mr. Luthor comes for you personally."

Clark forced himself to relax, feeling weird as the bigger man guided him through the back hallways and into the club. The men in the club gave them a wide berth, and those few who didn't, a meaty arm pushed them away as David guided Clark across the room.

It was kind of weird, the hand at his back and the clear defensive stance of his guide. It made Clark wonder if this was how girls felt when a guy did the same to them, either as a courtesy or in a protective gesture.

Not that he needed either, but he felt more confident with less of those strange, hungry stares being aimed his way.

He was directed to the far wall, opposite the bar where a series of black metal staircases seemed to go up to a balcony level he hadn't noticed before, as well as to the mysterious upper floors. Clark was nudged just to the right of the first set of stairs, where an elevator was concealed, the doors blending in so well that Clark wouldn't have noticed the elevator there without knowing what to look for.

David nodded at another beefy guy standing at the base of the stairs and reached around his neck, pulling out a card that was attached to a chain tucked under his shirt, which he slipped it into a barely perceptible slot in the wall. After a few moments the doors slid silently open, and he nudged Clark to move inside. A punched code and verbal order by the larger man sent the elevator in motion. It took less than a minute to get to the third floor.

After the doors opened, Clark walked forward and stared in disbelief as they exited into another, smaller, dance floor. This one had only a few dozen people, unlike the huge crowd on the first floor. However, these people were all in different stages of undress, with a few shirts unbuttoned, and everyone else being completely shirtless. A couple of people were completely naked, and there was a lot of touching, hands sliding over flesh, in ways that were much more than just dancing.

His eyes practically popped out of his head when he realized that not everyone was coupled off with a partner. A few men were dancing in groups, if you could call it dancing, and hands and mouths were in places that made Clark simultaneously want to stare and hide his eyes. Clark wondering distantly if this was what they meant by the word orgy.

"Come on, kid," a deep voice broke in, pushing him forward. Clark blanched as he realized they were making their way onto the dance floor, but it was only to walk around the outskirts far from anyone. His eyes fell down to his feet, and he blushed as the man behind him broke out in soft laughter.

"Don't worry about it, kid. It's a bit much if you aren't used to it. It gets most of the clientele up here excited when they walk through the dance floor before getting to the private rooms." They moved through an open archway, entering a whole new area. At first glance, it seemed to be made up of a series of hallways lined with doors.

Clark's head had shot up at the words 'private rooms', and he looked over his shoulder at David incredulously. He stammered, "Y-you mean, they...they do..." He trailed off, too embarrassed to say it, but he looked up, squinting as he flipped his vision over to x-ray and looked into the first room they passed.

He stumbled slightly as he saw two men on a couch, both naked, one of them straddling the other's lap. Several drinks were set on a nearby table, and one man was pouring something on the other man's chest and licking it off. A hand clapped to his shoulder caused his vision to blink out, and he was left staring dumbfounded at a black door.

"They're called private rooms for a reason. They're private. As long as it isn't too illegal, what's done in there is the clients' business. We do have rules here, and as long as they're followed, everyone's happy." Amusement threaded the gruff voice, and the hands at Clark's back and shoulder pushed him forward gently. "I'll need to check in to find out what room Mr. Luthor is currently in."

Clark ignored the man behind him, who seemed to be speaking to himself, even though Clark knew that he had to be speaking into some sort of communication device. He looked around cautiously, the shut doors making him simultaneously fascinated and agitated.

He could just take a quick peek into these mysterious rooms, and he'd get an eyeful to satisfy his unexpected curiosity about gay sex. He'd find out exactly what all those people in Smallville were always insinuating about, and he'd know exactly what those guys downstairs were thinking when they looked at him.

But it didn't feel right to invade all those people's privacy like that. And he didn't know what he'd see, and this was Lex's old world. The world his dad was always hinting about and condemning Lex for. The world outside of Smallville that his parents seemed to never want to acknowledge. And what if he didn't like what he saw?

What if it made him see Lex differently?

His eyes slid down, and he stared at his worn tennis shoes peeking out from under the ragged cuffs of his jeans.

On the other hand, what if peeking made him understand Lex better?

Lex was so unapproachable about his past. He'd wax on and on for hours about ancient history, philosophy, politics, science...anything and everything, except when it came to anything personal. The few crumbs he let out were mostly double-edged with a bitterness and longing about his relationship with his father.

Of course, he'd also never really asked Lex any questions about his past. Partially because he was afraid of what Lex might say---he sometimes got the feeling that Lex's childhood and past were less than happy---but mostly it was due to his fear that Lex wouldn't tell him. That Lex might snap at him to mind his own business, or coldly rebuff him, or possibly demand to know things about Clark.

Secret things that Clark wanted to tell Lex, but couldn't. He wanted to blame his parents, blame them because they demanded absolute secrecy, but that wasn't completely true. It was his choice to lie to his friends, to Lex, and he chose to lie to them each time he did it. While his parents were a very large part of why he lied, there was also a small part of him that was afraid to tell.

What if he lost everyone?

He'd completely and utterly freaked when he'd found out, but he couldn't exactly leave himself. He'd been horrified and shaken. He'd blamed himself for the meteors falling, for the mutations, for all the deaths from the meteor strike and since. He'd wondered what kind of monster he was that he'd been sent away at birth, and what kinds of monsters he came from that they'd send the meteors along as a deadly distraction.

What if Lex was right, and the meteors had been cover and subterfuge to disguise his descent into the Earth's atmosphere?

Suddenly, all the environmental problems and mutations that were blamed on LuthorCorp were seen in a new light, and the true blame was laid squarely at Clark's feet. Or at least his people's, whoever they were, for sending Clark to Earth.

A large part of the hate that was aimed toward Lex and his father should have been rightfully aimed at him.

Unexpectedly, everything had been so much clearer and so much more horrible than anything he'd ever imagined. And he'd become a bigger freak than even he'd ever imagined himself to be. Not one of the ones changed or different like the hushed rumors uttered amongst the populace of Smallville. No, not a mutant, but an alien. An alien. Not human. Not real.

Everything had been a big lie, and Clark Kent wasn't even Clark Kent. He was just a collaboration of lies that had started since the moment he'd landed on this world.

There were times, when he was lying in his bed at night and he couldn't sleep, that he just stared into the darkness and he truly hated his parents. For lying to him. For deceiving him.

Because it would've be so different if he'd been raised knowing what he was. If he'd known from childhood that he wasn't human and that he was an orphan in more ways than one.

He hadn't just lost a family. He'd lost a world. And he would probably never know from which world or why. He'd had the right to know this, to know that he wasn't human.

How much easier would his life be if he'd never even thought of himself in those terms?

Instead, he'd had his very identity stolen from him by finding out that it had never been real.

And as guilty as it made him, as ungrateful a child as it made him, deep down he knew a part of him would always resent his parents for lying to him. Mixed in with all the love and gratitude would always be a seed of bitterness and hatred for that betrayal.

Because it was obvious that they never would have told him if he hadn't forced the issue. And he never would have forced the issue if Lex hadn't hit him with his Porsche.

Sometimes Clark wondered if that was one of the main reasons that his dad hated Lex. Yes, he was a Luthor. Yes, Lionel was his father. Yes, he was rich. But more than all that, Lex had instigated the change.

From the moment Lex Luthor had entered Clark's life in a dramatic event worthy of a Luthor heir, Clark had become something more. Strength and speed had morphed into invulnerability. Abilities had begun to spring up, like heat vision, x-ray vision, not to mention the four times he'd woken up floating. The rumored mutants had become something more than rumor as classmates became psychotic and Clark became a mutant hunter or slayer or whatever.

He began questioning his parents, began questioning the way life was like in Smallville. It was as if he'd discovered suddenly that the entire population and town of Smallville were nothing more than a mask of lies, and hidden underneath was a wriggling mass of dirty secrets and malicious intent. A rotting core hidden by a facade of small-town values and a pretty farm community veneer.

And ironically enough, it took a Luthor, supposedly the epitome of darkness and evil, to show Clark the true face of his town, his community, his parents, even himself.

Clark swallowed hard, shutting his eyes tightly. Why couldn't he just be normal?

He jumped slightly as a heavy hand fell on his shoulder.

"You okay? You're not going to faint or anything?"

Clark opened his eyes to see a dark face looking down at him in concern. He scowled. "No," he muttered. "I'm fine. I just want to find Lex."

A large shoulder lifted and fell. "Luthor's this way." Brown eyes narrowed and the man added cautiously, "It's none of my business, kid, who you are or what he's doing. But the men he's with, the McGregors...well, just take my advice. Don't draw a lot of attention to yourself and don't mess with Luthor's business. You seem nice, different than the usual ones he brings in. Just keep your head low to the ground. Knowing the McGregors can be...unhealthy, if you get my meaning."

Clark stared at the man. Surely he wasn't saying...was he? He was talking like they were gangsters or something, which was just ridiculous. Right?

Just what was Lex doing with these people?

And what type of people did Lex usually bring here?

How often did Lex come here, with strangers? Strange...men?

Images of Lex dancing with the men they'd just left behind, anonymous faces and hands touching Lex, made something in Clark grow hot and angry.

Lex was worth more than that.

Clark let himself be herded down the corridor, past doors that he resolutely did not peek through, pushing back the anger and his mind going back to what he'd been told, wondering what 'unhealthy' meant and what sort of men warranted that type of warning. He knew Chloe would be in heaven to be handed such a mystery with all its shady implications, with the hint of danger making it all the more alluring; her busy mind working frantically to try to pull together random bits of information to make the amazing leaps of logic she was infamous for.

Instead of thinking on the mystery and intrigue of the club and these McGregors, he was just worried about Lex and feeling a little scared. Again. That maybe he was out of his depths.

They wound their way through the warren of corridors, finally ending at a door that seemed just as unremarkable as all the others. The card was pulled out once more, and again it was placed into the slot near the door. A small click was heard, and Clark's escort placed his thumb on a small pad on the door where a doorknob should have been. Another click was heard thirty seconds later, followed by the door moving slightly inwards. A push showed that the door must have unlatched somehow, and Clark was ushered through the open doorway.

He moved hesitantly into the room, embarrassingly gratified at the strong presence at his back, as he saw Lex on the far side of the large room talking quietly with two men. Both men had dark brownish-reddish hair, narrow faces, and thin lips that were frowning. Clark's hackles rose as they stood in a vaguely threatening manner over Lex, and it didn't help that they were both taller and built like professional body builders. They looked like they were somewhere in their late thirties, with one of them possibly pushing into his early forties, and something sinister just seemed to radiate from the pair.

Or it could have just been David's warning that had Clark seeing something that wasn't there.

There were a dozen or so people in the room, and two televisions were playing in opposite corners. One set was playing a baseball game, and the other was showing some sort of fight. There were multiple sofas and chairs in the room made of a dark blue material that contrasted with the dark burgundy of the room's walls and carpet. The lights were rather dim, and an assortment of bottles and glasses---filled and empty----were scattered on the tables near the furniture.

Clark gasped as he also saw pills and a couple of bags of white powder scattered throughout the room, along with a few syringes lying around with other paraphernalia that Clark had only seen in cop shows on TV. People were lying on sofas or draped over chairs, either watching the two televisions or talking. Two couples were making out on two of the sofas, and another pair was backed into the corner, the man against the wall on his knees. Clark couldn't see much from the angle he was standing as to what was going on, but he could make a pretty good guess thanks to Pete's porn tape.

David stayed at his back as they made their way to Lex.

"This is ridiculous. You can't honestly expect me to have that kind of cash lying around, and the banks are obviously closed for the night. I can get the money to you by nine tomorrow morning."

"And as we've stated before, that's not adequate."

"Please. We both know that I'm good for it."

"I appreciate your offer to cover Andrew's debt, Mr. Luthor, but as we've already stated the previous agreement was for immediate payment. Tomorrow is too late. We expect payment tonight, and if Andrew isn't able to fulfill his contract, then consequences will have to be mete out."

Lex's eyes narrowed at the cool icy tones being directed at him by the oldest of the pair. "And as we've discussed, Andy isn't able to make immediate payment of anything. I've already agreed to take care of the debt, and it's not unreasonable to ask for a twelve hour extension to make arrangements for the amount of cash in question."

The taller, younger brunette smirked. "It is completely unreasonable, Lex. You know how these things work, and we're merely applying a common arrangement that everyone else adheres to. He knew exactly what he was doing when he placed that bet and when he purchased certain merchandise tonight, and like everyone else, he pays before he leaves the room. Unless he doesn't wish to leave the room in the same condition he arrived in."

Another brunette stood slightly to the side of the arguing threesome, short spiky hair tipped blond and dark eyes wide with fear. He ran his hand nervously through his hair at the last statement, stammering, "Carl, man, there's got to be a way to work this out. You know I'm good for it. I always make good on my payments, and this just got a little out of hand. Lex can give you your money tomorrow. Isn't there some way we could---"

"Listen you little shit," the younger man growled, grabbing onto Andy's shirt and pulling him close. "You know how it works, and you made a bet you couldn't cover. That's your problem, not ours. And if you can't offer payment within the next three hours before Piper's closes, then you'll be making those payments in blood. Or on your back in trade until we get our cash."

Clark recoiled at the open terror that appeared on Andy's face. He waited silently, unnoticed a few feet behind Lex. He felt torn, part of him wanting to interfere at the sight of someone so clearly in trouble and being bullied, and yet a very big part of him also wanting to go hide in the nearest convenient corner.

Because as civilized as the two men appeared, dressed just as slick as the rest of the people in the room, there was a clear menace in their face and body language. It was the type of threat similar to what Phelan had presented, the type of threat Clark didn't know how to fight because it was so inherently malevolent and so utterly human.

Meteor mutants were a clear-cut danger he knew how to fight. Slugging matches with the meteor-strengthened were one thing. Humans, normal humans, who lived in a dark underworld Clark had no concept of, was another story. Super-powered alien abilities couldn't be used, and he had no idea how you fought that sort of callous viciousness and delight in human misery.

Clark shrank back slightly, suddenly wishing he'd stayed in the office.

Lex grabbed onto Andy's arm, pulling him back and out of the grip of 'Carl'. The older man looked disgruntled, and he shot a dark look at Lex, but he loosened his fingers and let go while his older brother looked on in boredom. Lex kept his hand on Andy's arm, pushing the man slightly behind him, and calmly asked, "Is that really necessary? This is a simple business transaction. You require payment for your...services. You are unable to collect payment within the allotted time, but you can receive payment if an extension is allowed. If you harm him, I won't pay. If you allow the extension, I do. This isn't complicated."

Carl's brother laughed scornfully. "And set a precedent? Everyone knows the rules when they deal with us. If we give him an out, everyone else will be whining about receiving one. You're a businessman, Luthor. A broken contract has consequences. I suspect Andrew here will find the money fast enough if he's used as a bit of rough trade for a day or two, and he won't squelch on a payment again in the future."

Clark flinched as a pair of hard eyes suddenly set upon him, looking speculatively between Clark and Lex before a leer spread over the younger McGregor's face.

"Or we could maybe work out something in trade with that bit of pretty behind you. I don't think I've seen him before." Carl licked his lips, his eyes raking up and down Clark's body as he undressed him with his eyes. "Maybe a few hours of that one's mouth, and we'll allow the extension since we'll be receiving compensation for our...generosity."

Lex turned, and Clark's heart started pounding at the intense, dark look that was directed at him. Furious, cold blue eyes made him take a step back, and he lurched into David as the ferocity of his anger practically fell off of Lex in waves. A sliver of fear wound its way down his spine, but what confused him was the shiver of excitement that accompanied it.

Lex's eyes flicked up to the man behind Clark, and he glanced once more at Clark before turning slightly to face the McGregor brothers, while still keeping Clark within his line of sight and Andy shielded behind him. His jaw tightened, and he jerked his head 'no' once. His voice was frigid and utterly inflexible as he bit out, "Unacceptable. My...associate isn't negotiable. We'll reach another agreement."

"Are you sure? Because he's magnificent." Carl paused, and his gaze drifted down to Clark's lips. "The things he must be able to do with that mouth alone, and those eyes are exquisite. I'd be more than willing to reach an accord over your newest plaything." Carl's eyes wandered leisurely over Clark's face, especially the aforementioned mouth and eyes. His leer widened as he watched Clark hunch into himself. "He's got that wholesome look, all shiny and fresh like he just stepped off the farm. Like he's still cherry. He must be...quite talented to keep such a sweet facade."

Clark took another step back, and his eyes darted to Lex, looking for reassurance. Lex, on the other hand, looked like he wanted to commit murder. Slowly and painfully over several hours. At least. With his bare hands.

Carl, obviously, didn't see the same thing, because he continued, "I'd be willing to give you the twelve hours for just an hour with his mouth. And I'll give you twenty-four for an hour with his ass."

Clark felt frozen, shocked at how that man was talking about him, saying those things about him. He suddenly appreciated the bodyguard Lex had sicced on him if this was what Lex had been trying to shield him from. Not that he couldn't take care of himself, but he felt incredibly revolted and dirty at the idea of being anywhere alone with this creep. For even five minutes. He was also getting the impression that this guy didn't take the word 'no' very well. Of course, he couldn't be forced to do anything, but...his eyes widened as Lex's control snapped.

Grabbing onto Carl's arm, Lex leaned forward and hissed, "Why the fuck do you always have to think with your cock? I told you, my associate isn't negotiable. Ever. End. Of. Story. If you want your money, you deal with me."

Carl smirked, running the hand from his free arm up and down the arm Lex was holding him with. "Lex. You know I've always enjoyed dealing with you. If I recall, you had quite the talented mouth yourself. It's been a few years, so I wouldn't mind becoming...reacquainted, maybe seeing just what you've learned in that time. Dealing with you wouldn't be a hardship at all."

Lex had been with this creep?

Lex held himself perfectly still as Carl leaned in, lowering his head and nuzzling into Lex's neck.

Clark was taken aback when the man's brother cuffed him on the head and jerked him back, though he was in utter shock that Lex was allowing this...this slimeball to touch him when Lex didn't let anyone touch him.

"Luthor's right. You do think with your cock." He looked at Lex coolly. "Fine. You want to deal in Andy's place, the same thing applies. Payment in three hours or there's consequences. As a show respect to you, Mr. Luthor, those consequences are negotiable. We're both businessmen, and bullshit aside, we both know you could get the money tonight if you really needed to."

"There's always Daddy," Carl added slyly.

Lex glared at the man. "There's no fucking way I'm asking my father for anything." He paused, looking searchingly at the two men in front of him. "What I don't understand is why the terms can't be amended."

A speculative look entered Lex's eyes. The two men merely looked on stonily.

"Let me guess, you need to make an example of someone, and Andy's just convenient. Because I sure as hell know you've dealt with him enough in the past to you know he usually requires a few days to arrange these types of matters."

The older McGregor snorted, shrugging carelessly. "You know how these things work; it's an annual necessity in our line of business. And it's just business, nothing personal." He glanced at Andy with a knowing look, like he knew it didn't matter if it was just business or if it was personal because he'd be back either way.

Lex's lips thinned, but he nodded. "Fine. You'll have your money in three hours. A hundred thousand as discussed. I expect Andy to be here, untouched, when I get back."

He ignored the men, turning his back on them and grabbing Andy by the arm. He started for the other side of the room and used his free hand to grab Clark's arm to jerk him in the same direction. He threw Andy into the first empty couch he saw, and he pressed Clark into a neighboring chair.

"I want you to sit here and not move," Lex bit out. He turned around, leaning into Andy's personal space and started whispering furiously.

Clark shifted uneasily as he felt eyes watching him, and he glanced uncertainly around the room from under his eyelashes trying to be as covert as possible. He noticed a half dozen people looking at him and Lex, whispering to each other and laughing. He also felt eyes drilling into him from the direction they'd just left, and he ducked his head as he realized that the creepy brother was looking at him intently. With nothing to stare at but his tennis shoes and the knots in his laces, he overheard Lex's furious whispers.

"Just stay here," Lex said impatiently, "and for fuck's sake, no more partying or gambling. I'm not covering anything else you do here tonight! I'll be back within two hours."

"Lex, I can't thank you enough. I swear, I'll pay you back within a week, and---"

"Damn it, Andy! If you want to begin thanking me, just sit the fuck here and don't take anything else. Don't touch anything. Don't do anything. No drugs. No alcohol. No prostitutes. You know how you get when you get trashed. If I could, I'd take you with me."

Andy sounded insulted as he protested, "I can take care of myself! I can be left in a room without supervision you know! And I'm not some addict, so stop treating me like one."

"Then start acting like an adult," Lex hissed. "If you can take of yourself, why the fuck did you call me?"

The brunette's shoulders drooped, and he exhaled heavily. He reached up with a shaky hand and nervously ran it through his hair. "Shit. I'm sorry, Lex. You're right; I lost control tonight. You know how I...well, if it wasn't for you, I'd be in a hell of a lot of trouble. I got in over my head. It won't happen again."

Lex sighed and said resignedly, though a touch of gentleness was in his voice, "Yes, it will. This is me you're talking to. Just don't let it get this bad again, and stay the fuck away from the McGregors. They don't play nice." Lex's eyes darkened. "They really, really don't play nice."

Andy gave Lex a wobbly smile. "I mean it, Lex. Thanks. If you hadn't come tonight..."

Lex snorted. "Just be here, sober, when I get back. We'll talk next week on how you're going to spin this to your dad."

"I owe you, Lex."

Clark started as a hand fell on his shoulder, and his head jerked up. He stared into livid blue eyes, and he felt his stomach coiling tightly again in that strange dual sensation of fear-excitement. Lex's other hand had come down on the cushion on his opposite shoulder, which left Lex boxing him in with his body as he loomed above ominously.

"Lex, I'm---"

"What part of, 'Wait here until I come back' did you not understand?"

Even though his voice was hushed, the steel behind the words made Clark flinch. "Lex, it was taking too long. You were gone twice as long as you said you would be. I thought you might be in trouble."

The ice-cold fury in Lex's eyes softened just a fraction, but his voice was still as warm as an arctic winter. "I asked you to stay there for a reason." Lex looked up, over Clark's shoulder, and sent the full weight of his anger in a glare only a Luthor could have given. He spit out, "And you, I thought you were supposed to keep him safe there."

"Lex," Clark interrupted, touching Lex's chest tentatively with one hand, his fingertips grazing the area just above Lex's heart. He could feel Lex's heartbeat pulsing against his fingers, and his own pulse raced a little faster in response. "Please. Don't be mad at David. I bullied him into bringing me to you. It's my fault, so if you're mad, be mad at me."

Lex's eyes shut briefly, and he exhaled softly through his mouth. He opened his eyes, his expression almost calm. He squeezed Clark's shoulder softly, leaning down to murmur quietly enough so no one else could overhear, "I'd never be angry with you, Clark."

Clark shivered as Lex's breath tickled his ear. However, he sent a dubious look at Lex.

Lex snorted. Again he kept his voice down, speaking directly into Clark's ear. "Okay, so I do get angry sometimes. But I get angry with some of the things you do, Clark. I never get angry at you." Lex turned his head, their faces so close Clark could see little specks of silver-grey in Lex's eyes. Lex looked into Clark's eyes, and his eyes warmed. "I'd never get angry at you."

Clark's breath caught at the soft promise in those words, and his eyes were trapped in Lex's gaze. Lex seemed to be saying things with his eyes, and Clark desperately wished he understood.

But he was just a dumb kid from Smallville, a dumb alien kid, and he didn't understand whatever language Lex was speaking with those eyes that Clark just knew he'd be seeing in his sleep tonight. Maybe he wasn't city enough, or maybe he just wasn't human enough, to understand and something inside of him twisted sharp and deep at the thought of never knowing.

"I'm angry at the situation you were placed in. I'm angry with myself for exposing you to this situation in the first place. And I'm furious at some of the comments you've had to endure since coming here. But I'm not angry at you." The next words were accompanied by a half-quirk of a smile. "Come on. I need to drop you off at the penthouse, and then I have some money I need to collect."

Clark's eyes popped wide open as the last few minutes really hit him, as well as all the implications. "Lex, how are you going to get that much money so fast," he whispered, voice stunned. "A hundred thousand? That's crazy."

Lex started to straighten up, the hand on Clark's shoulder lifting, and it hovered briefly as if Lex wasn't sure what he wanted to do with it. A few seconds passed before Lex's face smoothed out into his game face. He stood up, brushing his hands down his shirt and smoothing out the lines in the material. "It may be, but it can be done."

Lex's eyes flicked up to the big man who stood behind Clark, and he looked around the room cautiously. His eyes finally landed on Clark, and a grim smile came over his face. He quietly muttered to himself, "There's very little a Luthor can't do if the need is great enough."


Lex was NOT happy.

However, he was very aware that excruciatingly little was in his control at the moment, and all he could do was deal with the consequences as they came.

One positive result of having lived the life he had thus far, as wild and undisciplined as it was at times, was that he knew all about consequences. Of how you sometimes just had to accept whatever happened to you, ride out the moment, and the only thing you could do was just control the damage after the fallout had finished.

Bemoaning your state of affairs did nothing but show your own weakness, an indulgence only the weak-willed partook in.

However, it was another story to honestly acknowledge to oneself what a clusterfuck the night had been since the damn call from Andy.

He shifted the Porsche down as he decelerated, the light ahead turning yellow and then red. No other cars were on the road, but then it was three in the morning. He drummed his fingers lightly on the steering wheel impatiently as he waited for the light to change.

It was stupid to wait here when there was no reason, no other car in sight, but with his luck tonight, there was probably some cop hiding and in wait to swoop down to give him a ticket if he just went through the light.

Things had moved swiftly after leaving the McGregors behind, and just thinking about the brothers who were barely a level above thugs and who specialized in catering to the rich made Lex want to gnash his teeth. Carl, with his thrice-bedamned horniness, hadn't let his eyes wander away from Clark after first noticing the boy had slipped into the room. And he'd asked after Clark again, trying to get a name and a price for the latest Luthor whore when Lex had come back with the hundred thousand that Andy had so desperately needed.

It was a very close thing, and he'd almost given into his desire to pound the presumptive little shit into the very expensive carpeting. Only knowing how detrimental it would be to let anyone know just how precious the dark-haired boy was to Lex Luthor kept Lex's fists clenched at his side.

The last thing he needed was an attempted kidnapping of Clark to try to manipulate or blackmail him. Nor did he want people to start targeting the teenager as a way to get to him, or as an avenue for revenge in an attempt to hurt the Luthor heir. Ugly rumors were also a possibility, as was some overzealous vulture of a reporter popping up to start harassing or stalking Clark if the rags got a hint that the teenager meant something to him.

He also didn't want Clark to have an inkling of what his true value was to Lex. Besides being discomforting, the boy hadn't earned the right to know he was loved beyond all reason by Lex.

Clark could keep his secrets, but Lex would keep his, too. And he wouldn't accept Clark in any form beyond friendship without both love and trust irrevocably offered with an open heart.

Fucking he could get from anyone. Friends with benefits? That always ended badly. Nothing was more important than their friendship, not even his love for the boy. And he wouldn't risk that friendship for anything less than ALL of Clark.

Another reason he'd never dug too deep to get positive proof on what he believed Clark Kent to be. He wanted the truth, and thus proof of complete trust, from Clark's own lips. Not from some paid lackey or from his own investigations.

The truth, without trust, would only taste of bitter ashes.

Which brought him back to one of the biggest problems that the evening had laid at his door.

Clark.

Clark, his best friend. His seventeen-year-old best friend. Who'd been brought to a gay men's club, had been propositioned lewdly twice, and was probably still in heterosexual shock.

Or perhaps shock had passed into righteous fury.

Nobody did righteous fury better than a Kent.

There were times Lex really hated Jonathan Kent, and hearing Jonathan's voice come out of Clark tomorrow morning wasn't exactly something he was looking forward to. He'd had to hear it all too often in the past, and he was afraid one day he wouldn't just quietly take the shit Clark or his father dished out. One day, he'd get fed up with the baseless accusations and blind bigotry and he'd say what was really on his mind.

One day, he'd lose Clark's friendship. Or Jonathan Kent would make his son choose between his family and a Luthor's friendship, citing Lex's disrespect as cause enough for forcing such a choice on his only child.

Lex really didn't want to know whom Clark would choose in such a situation.

He was pretty sure ingrained Luthor hatred of a decade and a half would hold sway over a two-year friendship.

Not to mention that Clark was an orphan. The poor kid didn't have anyone but the Kents in the world, so he couldn't imagine little orphan Clark just blithely turning his back on his adoptive father and mother.

Besides, even if by some miracle Clark choose Lex over his parents, he had no doubts that Clark would eventually blame and hate Lex for that choice. After all, with the Kents, everything always came down to the Luthors and how everything bad, evil, or slightly questionable was somehow their fault.

Lex rubbed his face wearily, his hand brushing over his scalp slowly before he looked up blankly at the green light.

Now he was slipping into maudlin hopelessness. Something that occurred all too often when he thought about his hopeless, unrequited love for the child who'd saved his life.

He let his own disgust roll over him as he continued making his way to the penthouse. He didn't know what was worse, that he'd actually allowed himself to fall so miserably in love with someone who couldn't and wouldn't love him back, or that he was practically a pedophile for having such intense feelings for someone so damn young.

Ironically enough, the fact that he'd been younger than Clark when he'd had his first sexual experience and that he'd had sex with men and women a hell of lot older than him when he was Clark's age didn't make him feel any better. It was a whole world of difference on the other side of the equation, and it didn't make him feel any less perverted.

Who the hell fell in love with a fifteen-year-old?

Lex swore quietly to himself for the thousandth time that he wouldn't ever touch Clark, and that he'd protect Clark from everyone. Even himself and his love. After all, as his mother found out, a Luthor's love could be a terrible thing.

Lex pulled into the parking garage, nodding an acknowledgement to the security guard on duty, and pulled into the Luthor level reluctantly. He wasn't quite ready to go up, but he wasn't about to let himself play the coward now.

He itemized the immediate problems in his mind as he entered the private elevator to his penthouse, a graduation present upon his graduation from the Princeton undergraduate program at the top of his class. Not that the bribe had worked. Lex had stayed on the East Coast to start on his doctorate and had told his father to go bite himself. He'd insisted that the family business could wait until he finished with his education and that hell would freeze over before he went to Met U again.

Lionel hadn't been happy, but Lex would swear there had been the tiniest gleam of satisfaction that the bribe had shown that he couldn't be easily bought or wooed.

But reminiscing didn't solve his problems. And Jesus fuck was he tired.

First, he had Clark to deal with. There was nothing for it: he'd have to have a serious talk with the teenager in the morning about topics that Lex would have preferred not to be brought up at all. But what he wanted had very little to do with what needed to be done and damage had to be maintained to a minimal if possible.

Second, he'd have to take certain preventative measure in regards to the McGregors. The bastards knew he could come up with a serious chunk of cash within hours, as well as Andy and anyone else who might have been listening or anyone that the McGregors told. He wouldn't be surprised if someone had followed him, and he'd assumed someone had because paranoia was a very healthy way to live when you were a Luthor and richer than God.

After ushering Clark as quickly through Piper's as possible---he had serious issues about Clark being exposed to the third floor---he'd dropped off the protesting teen at the penthouse. But not before going up himself and withdrawing a satchel from the safe in the office that had contained $40,000 in hundred dollar bills, from which he'd taken $30,000 and placed into a briefcase. Security would have to be increased at the penthouse in case someone got the idea that it was an easy mark for a burglary.

Maybe he'd contact Selena. If she was willing to make the trip from Gotham, he knew he couldn't find a more capable and knowledgeable security consultant. Security cameras and an alarm weren't going to cut it anymore.

He'd gone to the airport next, where he'd had $20,00 stashed in a locker in case he ever needed to get out of the state or country quickly. Being on the run might mean he wouldn't have the time to go anywhere else to pick up cash or clothes, not to mention the fake ID's he'd had stashed in the duffle bag, so he'd covered his bases. It was annoying that he'd have to give up the locker, but another could be rented easily enough with a different alias.

Luckily, he hadn't had to stop off at the bus station for the very similar duffle bag he'd stashed there, so that locker was still secure.

Next, he'd driven to several other 'dummy' locations merely to confuse anyone that might be following him. No reason to make it easy for anyone to know where he really kept large amounts of cash, and it might throw some doubt that Lex kept cash at the penthouse. However, what really irked was that he'd have to drop his bolthole now that it was compromised.

His bolthole had been his second to last stop before going to the club. He'd rented the apartment anonymously under an alias, and no one knew of the place but him. You never knew when you might have to go into hiding, and he'd been renting the place since he was sixteen. He had a couple such places scattered in the US and Europe.

Living the life of a Luthor, being the heir to of one of the largest fortunes in the United States, and being the son of Lionel Luthor meant having such boltholes. Lex had always been a survivor, even at his most suicidal, and paranoia and experience had led to him outlining such measures early in life.

However, compromising the place had been a necessity, so he wasn't about to gripe too much. He'd needed the $50,000 stashed there, under a floorboard.

Fuck, if Andy wasn't one of the few childhood friends he'd had, he wouldn't bother to continue bailing the guy out. He should stop, force him to learn to take care of his own problems, but Andy had been the one of the few kids who hadn't teased or rejected him at Excelsior when he'd gotten out of the hospital. It wasn't a kindness he could forget or dismiss easily.

He stepped out of the open elevator door in relief, glad to be home and finally able to get some sleep. He still had some thinking to do about the McGregors, but it could wait until tomorrow. He hadn't liked the look in Carl's eyes as he'd handed over the briefcase, and he had a feeling that one or both of the brothers would be back in his life sooner than he would like.

He shuddered slightly. Besides asking about Clark, the SOB had turned those creepy little eyes on him. He still regretted his one night with the man, a bad error in judgment that he chalked up to youthful stupidity combined with too much coke for him to know better. He didn't even remember that night all that clearly, but the light in Carl's eyes had shown that the same couldn't be said for Carl.

Fuck. Why was it that all the weirdoes and power-hungry assholes were always after his ass or cock?

Lex stopped abruptly, eyes wide, as he stepped into the living room area of the penthouse.

Moonlight was streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, the stars twinkling almost imperceptibly through the light pollution of the city. But it wasn't the celestial heavens that had caught Lex's breath in his throat or caused his heart to pound furiously as a disgustingly soft warmth spread throughout his chest.

Pale moonbeams spilled out onto a sleeping figure on the sofa facing the night sky, and the cool light seemed to enfold the boy. It took very little imagination to envision that he'd stepped into an artist's studio, and before him lay a sleeping beauty worthy of Michelangelo. A finished masterpiece, pure perfection chiseled out of rock that had whispered into the artist's ear of a magnificence beyond even that of David.

Lex let out a soft breath, and his fingers itched to reach out to touch soft locks. The boy's raven hair seemed to absorb the darkness of the room even as the moonlight caressed a curl that had fallen down onto his forehead. A black fan of lashes brushed moon-kissed cheeks, and lips were a dark burgundy in the silver-white rays streaming through the windows.

Lex just thanked whatever gods might be listening that Clark had put on sweats and a t-shirt. If the sleeping boy had been half-naked, Lex wasn't sure he would have had enough of a mind left to exercise the necessary restraint and self-control. As it was, he was entranced by the sight of Clark, asleep on his stomach, one cheek pressed into the dark cushion, and that delectable ass presented temptingly as one knee had been drawn up towards the boy's stomach.

At this one moment, in the darkness of the night and with no one to witness other than the moon and the stars, Lex felt his heart fill with so much love for the one sleeping before him that he'd swear he could feel it overflowing, threading its way like molten gold through his veins and entrenching itself down into the mitochondria of every cell in his body.

His chest spasmed as he realized, recognized, and accepted within seconds just how much he loved this boy, the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen, and he knew that he would do anything for the man-child that slept unaware. Live, die, steal, kill. Whatever Clark wanted and needed, he would give if it was within his power, and what wasn't in his power he would acquire by whatever means necessary.

At this one moment, he knew more love and more terror than he'd ever known before. More love and more terror than he'd known could exist.

Clark owned his soul, and the boy didn't even know it.

And he never would.

Lex walked silently into the room, his eyes pinned to the sight of his best friend. He crouched down by Clark's head, and he lifted his left hand slowly until it lightly touched a cotton-covered shoulder. He squeezed softly and called out quietly. "Clark."

After a calling out Clark's name a few more times, the warm shoulder in his arm moved sluggishly. Clark made a soft whining noise in his throat, and he snuggled his face into the cushion as his body wriggled and tried to burrow into the sofa.

"Clark, come on. Time to go to bed."

Clark's eyes scrunched together, his nose wiggling adorably, and he slurred out, "Wanna sleep."

"I know," Lex said softly. "You should be in bed."

Lex gave into temptation and ran his hand down Clark's arm, and his palm tingled as it skimmed over warm skin that was still soft and supple with youth.

He felt a sharp slap of self-hatred, and he jerked his hand away from Clark. Despite his churning emotions, he spoke calmly. "Come on, Clark."

Lex watched, enchanted, as long eyelashes fluttered as eyelids fought to open, and sleepy eyes finally looked out at him in confusion. "Lex?"

Lex swallowed hard as the sleep-raspy voice called out his name, and he clenched his left hand into a tight fist. He would not take advantage. He would not.

He was different now. Clark made him want to be different.

Hell would freeze over and the archangel Michael would announce Lionel Luthor really was the devil before he would take advantage of Clark. Clark was everything innocent and good, the essence of sweetness and light, despite the lies and minor betrayals.

It would be so easy to seduce the boy, regardless of his declaration of love towards Lana Lang and his pesky heterosexuality. Lex knew how to seduce, how to make the human body burn with desire and want, and gender had very little to do with those skills. He could have Clark before Clark even realized what was happening, to make that body want so much that the mind wouldn't even be aware.

But he wouldn't. Wouldn't seduce and wouldn't openly love. Clark was meant for someone else, someone with soft curves and an innocent heart. Something Lex had never had.

Besides, it wasn't the body he wanted. Desired, yes. But it would be an empty conquest without the mind, heart, and soul to accompany it. He wanted the whole package or nothing at all.

"I tried to stay up," Clark bleated forlornly, pushing himself up half-heartedly and falling back down with a small 'oomph.' He chided accusingly, "You said you'd be back in a few hours."

"It took a little longer than I thought," Lex said absently. "Andy needed a ride home and we had...details we needed to discuss."

Clark frowned, and Lex's fingers itched to smooth out the tiny lines that formed between his brows.

"You're back now?"

Lex smiled softly at the befuddled boy laid out mere inches from him. He said gently, "Yes, I'm back now."

"Good," Clark muttered softly, and he nestled his cheek into a sofa cushion.

Lex raised his hand, unable to help himself, and pushed the errant curl back from Clark's forehead. His fingertips brushed hair that was soft as the finest silk, and while one part of him shivered in pleasure, another part noted yet another peculiarity of the unearthly, heavenly creature that had graced his life.

Human hair wasn't that soft, and the texture was off. More kittenish than human, a silky, downy feel to the dark strands.

Only the fact that a sleepy, exhausted Clark would never remember this allowed him to brush his fingers one more time through inhumanly soft, dark strands.

"Don't you want to go to bed?" Lex whispered, his heart breaking as he desperately wished it was his bed that Clark would want to fall into but knowing better than to allow himself false hope.

Luthors dealt with reality, not pretty fictions.

Luthor didn't chase after rainbows.

Luthors didn't love.

"Sleepy," Clark grumbled.

"Okay," Lex whispered.

He made his way to his bedroom and was back minutes later with a light blanket in his hands and a pillow under his left arm. He fingered the soft material lightly, a faint smile crossing his face as he dropped it on a coffee table near Clark's sofa. He urged a barely conscious teenager to lift his head, and he slid the pillow under him. He chuckled softly as Clark snuggled into the pillow immediately.

He picked up the blanket, unfolding it and spreading it out over the unmoving form. He gave into one last impulse for the night, blaming the irrational and bewildering sentimentality that had overtaken his better senses in the last ten minutes, and he tucked the material around the solid and warm body. He leaned down, petting the dark hair for the last time, and softly kissed the nearest temple.

"Goodnight, Clark," he whispered.

For a first and only kiss, it was more than he'd ever hoped for. Lex made his way back to his bedroom silently, leaving behind his heart as he mentally prepared himself to step into a lonely future.

END

(To be continued in "The Sandman Visits")