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by Ruby

Title: Promise
Author: Ruby
Disclaimer: If they were mine I wouldn't be writing about them. I'd be in the middle of them.
Archive: Sure just let me know where.
Category: pre-slash, drama
Rating: PG--for some bad words
Spoilers: really vague ones.
Summary: Clark graduates then foils an assassination attempt, and Lex always keeps his promises.
Feedback: GAWD YES.
Author's notes: Look Ma, no sex! And no, I don't know how the hell that happened. I consider this pre-slash but if you squint or are willfully blind it can pass for Gen. It's a lot like the actual show in that respect.

Clark couldn't help but smile when he heard it. His smile only grew when other people registered the noise, including the Principle whose voice faltered on the name Keating as he looked disapprovingly across the football field. Clark didn't have to turn around to know what he'd be seeing.

Cursing and downshifting, Lex screeched into the parking lot of Smallville High and leapt out of the Porsche. Jogging toward the ceremony he didn't notice that his dramatic and quite loud arrival had attracted more than a few stares. The only thing he was paying any attention to as he scanned the sea of caps and gowns was the fact that they were only on `KEA.' It would still be a minute before they got to `KEN.'

Thank God he hadn't missed it. He'd walked out on a meeting attended by the most powerful men in Metropolis with barely an apology and a brief explanation of a previous engagement. His father had been livid, taking his departure as a personal insult. The other CEOs were torn between incredulous and awed that he had the gall to leave. Mayor Weston just looked amused and told Lex to call him tomorrow.

After a rare smile and promise to do so Lex left the room and headed straight to the roof and waiting helicopter. Knowing that the meeting would go well into the afternoon Lex had planned ahead. All it took was a quick flight and a harried drive and Lex was standing on the outskirts of the crowd just in time to hear Clark's name being announced as one of Smallville High's newest graduates.

Watching Clark stride up to receive his diploma Lex was pleased to see how much he had changed. There was barely even a hint of the clumsy, shy boy Lex had met four years ago. Instead the person who waved the rolled up piece of paper to the cheers of his friends and parents was confident, assured, and nearly a man. He was also gazing straight over the crowd and right at Lex.

It was a look that radiated satisfaction and relief at having graduated, elation that he was finally done with high school, and most of all complete and total certainty that his best friend would be there to see it. Lex was pretty sure he didn't deserve that type of blind trust but he was grateful for it. It kept him grounded and made him think twice before doing anything that some would call questionable.

Despite his past and father's influence, Lex had become a decent person. He would like to think it was because he actually was a decent person but deep down he knew it was because of Clark. Lex wouldn't take the chance of doing anything that would make Clark lose faith in him and turn away. And Lex had to admit that Clark-inspired business policies hadn't done him too bad.

Starting with nothing more than a fertilizer plant it had taken him only three short years to make LexCorp a formidable company. His holdings, power, and influence were growing faster than anybody could have predicted, except maybe for Clark. Clark who one time had patiently listened to Lex bitch and complain all night long about how hard everything was, how he didn't think he could keep LexCorp alive without killing himself.

When the sun rose Lex had run out of words and Clark calmly told him that everything would work out and that LexCorp would be a great company. Quietly and not meaning to be heard Lex had mumbled, "Yeah, but what about me?"

Startled by the question Clark gave him an unexpected hug saying that, Lex as a person, would be even greater than his company. Clark had seemed so sure that Lex had to ask how he knew. He remembered Clark had cocked his head to the side like he was rethinking Lex's intelligence and said, "Because you already are."

Lex knew he wasn't but he silently vowed to be, just so Clark would never be proven wrong. He didn't ever want Jonathan Kent or anybody else to be able to tell Clark *I told you so* when it came to the type of person he was. Lex knew he wasn't a good man but for Clark he would be great.

Staying in back of the mass of proud parents Lex waited as the rest of the Class of 2005 was called, including Lana Lang, Pete Ross, and Chloe Sulivan. He couldn't see it but he could easily picture Clark's expression, excited and nearly as happy for his friends as he was for himself. Lex had to smile. And as the group of teenagers stood up and threw their caps into the air, he had to laugh.

Clark had barely let his cap fly before he had an arm full of Chloe. Giving her a hug that lifted her off the ground Clark swung her around and grinned as she squealed in surprise. Carefully putting her down he got a smack in the arm before she staggered away to her Dad. Looking around and seeing Pete with his Mom and Lana with Nell, Clark pushed through the crowd to his parents.

His Mom was crying as she told him how happy she was. He couldn't do anything but bury his face in her hair and say `I love you.' His Dad was watching the two of them and doing his best to be stoic. Clark didn't want that so he pulled the man into a bonecrushing hug and mumbled, "Thanks for putting up with me."

There was really nothing more he could say to the people who had turned their lives upside down to take care of him. He didn't think he deserved them but he thanked God that they were the ones who found him that day. He couldn't imagine today happening without them, just like he couldn't imagine it without Lex.

Clark hadn't been worried that his friend wouldn't show up. Lex had promised he'd be there to see him graduate and that was all Clark needed to hear. His Mom had told him not to be too upset if Lex didn't make it. "I'm sure he wants to but he's very busy," she said trying to prepare him for the worst.

"He'll be here Mom. He promised."

His Dad grunted not thinking much of a promise from Lex but his Mom just looked upset that her little boy was going to be hurt. Clark shook his head not bothering to explain that while Lex might lie when he had to, he never broke a promise, not to Clark anyway. And even as the ceremony had started and the names called it didn't occur to him that Lex wouldn't be there when it was his turn to walk across the stage.

And he was. Standing in a football field wearing clothes and an attitude that openly and arrogantly declared how important he'd become. It was something nobody could deny. The wild-child of Lionel Luthor had grown up, broken away from Daddy, and was rising in the ranks of the most important and powerful people in the country. Everyday there were articles that mentioned Lex, right along words like genius, born leader, unstoppable, and obscenely rich. Yet here he was in a crowd of farmers and teenagers because he'd promised Clark.

Untangling himself from his Mom and Dad, Clark looked over to see Lex exactly where he'd been before. He was hanging back not wanting to intrude on what he considered to be parent-time. Well Clark figured it was about time Lex realized that he was just as important as his parents were.

Jogging over he stopped himself right before giving Lex the hug he wanted to. Clark knew he wouldn't appreciate it. Lex really didn't like any kinds of physical affection, especially when they were directed at him. And although he seemed to get used to Clark's persistent compulsion to touch him, he was still pretty uncomfortable when Clark did it in public. Rough-housing in the castle gym, playful nudges, and the occasional hug were okay but anything else was merely tolerated and always accompanied by a halfjoking lecture about how Luthors didn't do mushy stuff.

"I did it," Clark declared holding his diploma and bouncing up and down in front of his friend.

"Yeah, you did," Lex agreed smiling at the aborted hug he could tell Clark wanted to give him.

Lex let out a long-suffering sigh that clearly said he was going to do something he should be sainted for. "Congratulations and..."

"And?" Clark prompted.

"Wanna hug?" he asked opening his arms.

Not giving Lex time to change his mind Clark stepped into carefully guarded personal-space and wrapped him in a hug that was sure to leave bruises. Laughing and not feeling as uncomfortable as he thought he would Lex found himself patting Clark's back and sternly telling him it wasn't nice to crush the billionaire.

Obviously not taking him seriously because of the snickering Clark let go but not before he gave one last squeeze that had Lex coughing. Lex was ready to break into a stream of curses about possible assault charges when Lana and Chloe ran up with matching smiles.

"Cool. Rich guy giving out hugs," Chloe announced launching herself at Lex.

Staggering back he had no choice but to put his arms around her to keep them both from falling. Then quickly and completely shocking Lex she kissed him on the cheek, told him to look out for Clark, and bounded away. Lex wasn't sure the bizarre mauling actually took place until he looked over to see Lana standing there both shy and hopeful.

A glance at Clark told Lex that he wouldn't be any help at all. He was much to busy covering his mouth and stifling the laughter that was desperately trying to get out. Vowing revenge Lex gave in to the inevitable, forced himself to relax, and inclined his head toward Lana.

It was all the invitation she needed. Slipping her arms around his neck Lex was immediately struck with how small and fragile she was. He barely had time to wonder why he'd never noticed before when she whispered in his ear. He couldn't help flinching but he stopped himself from jerking back and heard her say, "Take care of Clark."

He didn't have a chance to form a response before she was out of his arms and into Clark's. Hugging the girl he'd once loved and now just adored, Clark was surprised when Lana gave him an order as well. "Take care," she said, "and keep Lex out of trouble."

"I will," he promised as she walked away.

Lex was going to ask what the hell it was about graduation ceremonies that had people turning into crazed hug-granting lunatics when he was once again interrupted, this time by Clark's parents.

"Mrs. Kent," Lex greeted. "You must be so... proud." She hugged him and Lex was beginning to think it was a conspiracy.

"I'm sorry Lex," she said pulling back. "I'm just so happy you made it."

"It's okay and perfectly understandable."

Tucking herself beneath Jonathan's arm she smiled at his diplomacy. "Don't lie," she chided. "You'd rather be tarred and feathered than hugged. But when I saw the girls taking advantage of the situation I just couldn't help myself."

Since it was true Lex chose not to say anything. Stuffing his hands in his pockets to avoid even a handshake he nodded to Jonathan. "Mr. Kent, I can't imagine how proud you are. Clark's quite an extraordinary boy."

He said it without thinking but he had to wonder if he'd used those specific words deliberately. It was the same thing he'd said on the riverbank a lifetime ago and the tolerant look on Clark's face and the scowl on his Dad's told Lex they both remembered.

"That's one of the few things we've always agreed on Lex," Jonathan said in a tone less irritated than everybody was expecting.

They looked so surprised that Jonathan laughed. "I'm in too good of a mood and it's too important of a day," he told them. "Nothing's going to ruin it for me, not even you Lex."

Never one to pass up an opportunity Lex spoke up. "Then would this be a good time for me to ask if I can kidnap Clark for a weekend in Metropolis?"

"A weekend?" Clark and his Dad echoed.

He was going to tell Clark about it later but he might as well do it now. "As you probably know LexCorp Towers is officially opening this weekend. Tradition dictates that there has to be a commencement ceremony and party. I tried to keep it small but it didn't quite work out that way. Along with some boring politician types there's supposed to be music and movie stars. I thought Clark might like to go."

Clark was bouncing again. "Can I Dad?"

The immediate No that Jonathan almost said was silenced with a jab to the ribs by Martha. Instead he reminded Lex that Clark was only eighteen and that he wasn't sure it was a good idea for him to go to a party where everyone else would be much older.

"We'll be christening an office building not a brothel," Lex informed him ignoring Clark's snicker. "Besides I'll be there to keep Clark out of trouble."

"Won't you be hosting the party?" Martha asked before Jonathan could say anything about the brothel remark.

"Yes," Lex said knowing what she was really asking. "But it's more in name only. What it comes down to is me doing a lot of mingling and being very polite. Clark's more than capable of mingling and being polite with me."

"So you won't get caught up in business or be too busy?"

"I'm never too busy for Clark." It was the truth but Lex winced at how readily he just admitted it.

"We know you mean well," Jonathan broke in, "but I'm still not comfortable with it."

"Dad, come on please." Clark might be eighteen but he wasn't above begging.

Shushing Clark with a look Lex thought he should mention a few things. "Mr. Kent I know you're only trying to protect your son but as you reminded me, he is eighteen now."

Jonathan was reconsidering his statement that Lex couldn't ruin the day. "So you're saying that because Clark's legally an adult he should be able to do whatever he wants, regardless of what we think."

Rubbing a hand over his head and sighing Lex thought maybe he was fated never to get along with fathers, not his own and definitely not Clark's.

"That's not what I'm saying at all," Lex told him wearily. "My point is that in a few months Clark's going to be living in Metropolis to attend school. And it'd be unrealistic to think that you'll still be able to decide what experiences are appropriate for him. I can tell you right now that within the first week he'll be invited to at least a half-dozen parties that will make the one I want to take him to seem down right tame in comparison."

"We trust Clark to make responsible decisions for himself when it comes to college."

"Then why is college any different from this weekend?" Lex reasoned. "I can guarantee that Clark won't get a chance to do anything stupid but even if you don't trust me, you obviously trust Clark. So why not let him go?"

Jonathan knew when he was beat and apparently so did everyone else. Martha nodded her assent, Clark was mentally packing his bags, and Lex was valiantly trying not to look smug.

With a shake of the head Jonathan granted Lex a small but genuine smile. "You know it's times like these that I think I should go buy stock in LexCorp."

When Lex looked confused he explained. "Lex, it took less than two minutes for you to convince me to hand over my only child. The rest of the world doesn't stand a chance against that type of influence."

Stunned at the almost compliment and that Jonathan would give in so easily, Lex was a loss for words. Clark didn't seem to have that problem.

"So I can go?"

Jonathan nodded. "Yeah, you can go."

"This is great," he beamed at his Dad and Lex. "Who else gets a weekend with the rich and famous as a graduation present?"

"Is that what this is Lex, Clark's graduation present?" Martha asked.

Lex actually looked a little sheepish. "Not exactly," he admitted. "This was just sort of for fun. I had something more practical in mind for his official present."

"Like what?" they all asked and Lex had to hold back a grin at how different they each made the question sound. Martha's voice was only slightly apprehensive while Jonathan's held a bit of dread. Clark on the other hand actually squeaked in anticipation.

"Since Clark will be staying on campus, I was hoping to make his dorm room at least livable. Take him shopping for stuff, TV, mini-frig, things like that."

Martha saw the eyes of both boys light up at the announcement but for very different reasons. Lex trully enjoyed buying Clark things and took full advantage whenever he was allowed. Birthdays and Christmas have taken on a life of their own since Clark had befriended Lex.

And although there was no denying that Clark liked getting things, it wasn't the presents that made him happy. What Clark liked was the effort behind them. She remembered Clark's eighteenth birthday just a few months ago.

The party Lex threw him at the mansion had been huge. With caterers, a live band, and half the school in attendance, Clark had been in heaven. But it wasn't the party that he couldn't stop talking about the next day. It was the cheap novelty T-shirt that Lex had given him that had the boy grinning from ear to ear all through breakfast. A T-shirt that shamelessly proclaimed "I'm always right?"

When Martha asked him about it Clark said that he'd mentioned to Lex about seeing it at the mall. Lex obviously went to the Mall and bought it. But when Martha still didn't see the importance of the act Clark said it again slowly.

"Mom, Lex went shopping at the Mall."

Well, when he said it like that she could understand its significance. Lex didn't go to the Mall. If she remembered correctly she'd heard him describe it as a twisted version of the Pied Piper leading America's youth to their intellectual and financial deaths by offering inane, ridiculously expensive, and over-commercialized products. And even if he respected the business aspect of it he wouldn't risk stepping foot in one for fear that the ignorance of the easily influenced would transfer to him by some strange form of impulse-buying osmosis.

When Martha had overheard that particular conversation she had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing out loud but Clark merely said, quite reasonably, that Lex was being dramatic.

"Fine," he said in an attempt to sound irritated. "Just don't come running to me when you suddenly realize you're broke and stupid."

"Uh, I think that's what I did last week when I told you I wasn't going to college because I was sure to fail my history final and lose my scholarship."

Lex looked thoughtful for a moment before saying, "I don't remember that."

"It happened," Clark assured.

"Well then I'd like to think that I told you the situation could be remedied by studying or if worst comes to worst, working your way through college."

"No, actually you offered to pay for my tuition or pay off my teacher."

Lex grinned. "Ah yes, I remember now. The offer still stands by the way."

And Martha was certain Lex was serious, that he'd be only too happy to pay Clark's way through college. But a nudge from Jonathan and a discussion about DVD players brought her back to the present where she realized that since Lex wasn't going to get to pay for Clark's tuition, he was settling for decorating his dorm room.

She supposed it was a reasonable compromise and she knew Jonathan was thinking the same thing when he bent and whispered in her ear. "Could be worse."

You have no idea, she thought stepping forward and threading her arm through Clark's. "Why don't we talk about this later," she suggested to both boys leading them toward the parking lot.

Which is what they did when they went back to the Kent farm where Clark talked Lex into having dinner with them.

"Don't you have a graduation party to go to?" Lex asked as they relaxed up in the barn loft after stuffing themselves with Martha's vegetable lasagna.

"Not `til later," Clark answered distractedly as he flipped through a pamphlet for Metropolis University.

Lex couldn't help but notice the tension and worry Clark was giving off. "You nervous?" he asked gesturing to the papers in Clark's hands.


"You shouldn't be. You're gonna love it, you'll see."

"I know and I want to go. It's just..."

When he didn't continue Lex tried to guess. "You're worried about leaving your parents?"

"Actually that's one of the least of my concerns. I mean I'll miss them but I don't have to worry about `em. The farm's doing great so they'll be able to hire a few guys to pick up the slack when I'm gone." Clark paused for a second to make sure Lex was paying attention. "Thanks to you," he added.

"Me?" Lex asked making his face as blank as possible.

"Quit acting like you don't know what I'm talking about. I know it's your doing that we have all these rich customers buying organic produce."

"Clark," he said in his best `you poor delusional boy' voice. "Your farm's doing good because you have a quality product. Now granted some of your current buyers might of first discovered the joys of pesticide-free vegetables at one of my parties but I assure you that I did nothing more than tell them who I bought my produce from."

"So you had nothing to do with the fact that we're shipping stuff to Metropolis for cocktail parties?"

"Of course not," Lex said managing to sound appalled. "If some socialite wants her veggies shipped in from Smallville, that's her business. Really, who am I to judge the whims of the eccentric and rich?"

"Uh huh," Clark said unconvinced. "But speaking of the eccentric and rich, when do you plan on moving into the newly-finished and state-of-the-art Tower `O Lex?"

"I told you not to call it that," Lex reprimanded. "And I've already started. The penthouse is done and a lot of the offices are already functioning. I figure I'll be completely moved in with Metropolis as the corporate office of LexCorp by the Fall."

"Mmm." Clark sounded thoughtful and amused. "Just about the same time I start school."

"Really? What a coincidence," Lex said, only years of practice allowing him to keep his expression neutral with just a hint of surprise thrown in for effect.

Clark wasn't buying it. "You used to be a better liar Lex."

Lex ignored him acting as though he just thought of something. "Hey, since we'll be living in the same city and all, we should hang out sometime."

"You jerk," Clark said laughing and throwing the Met U leaflet at his friend. "You planned this, admit it."

Shrugging Lex conceded. "Maybe."

Clark sobered instantly. Of course he'd known Lex had worked it so they'd be going to Metropolis at the same time but he never thought that he'd actually admit it.

"Don't look so surprised Clark, it's not like you didn't already know. Hell, all of Smallville and half of Metropolis knows. I haven't exactly been trying to hide it."

When Clark kept staring at him not saying anything he felt the need for damage control. "I'm sorry if this makes you uncomfortable. I didn't think..."

"No!" Clark cut him off loudly. "It doesn't."

And it didn't. Well, not in the way Lex was thinking anyway. He didn't care what everybody thought and sometimes said about Lex moving the same time Clark was. He'd heard the rumors, even without super-hearing they'd be hard to miss but he didn't care. To tell the truth he was used to them. After all they'd pretty much started the day he'd pulled Lex out of the river. Sure they'd die down if either of them was dating someone but that didn't happen all that often.

Lex was usually too busy building his company to date and Clark got nervous when he spent a lot of time with someone new. He couldn't relax, always thinking that they were going to start asking him questions he couldn't answer. In a round about way they'd talked about it once while they were lounging in the castle and watching a movie.

Lex threw popcorn at him. "It's Friday. How come you're not out with Stacy?"

"Broke up," Clark said grimacing.

"Yeah, why?" Lex asked not sounding too surprised.

"She got pissed off because I wanted to spend my free time with you and not her, so she dumped me."

Lex looked a cross between flattered and horrified. "Clark I don't want you to lose your girlfriend because you're hanging out with me. Go call her or better yet go over there and apologize. She'll take you back."

Clark was shaking his head. "I don't want to be taken back. Weren't you listening?"

"Yes and I still think if you go over there now..."

"Lex what did you hear me say? Not what you think I meant but what I actually said?"

Trying to remember he started to slowly repeat what Clark said. "You said that she got mad because you wanted to spend time with me and not... her. Oh," then Lex asked quietly, "so you'd rather be here?"

"Yeah, here is pretty much where I want to be."

Lex tried to keep his smile to a minimum as he leaned back to watch the rest of the movie. "Okay then."

Clark wasn't about to let him off that easily. "What about you?"

"What about me?" he asked warily.

"I saw at least four party invitations on your desk. How come you're not at one of them looking for the future Mrs. Lex Luthor?"

"Because," he said never taking his eyes off the TV, "I'm kind of fond of here myself."

Clark smiled too and filed away the fact that they would rather kickback with each other than go out on a date. The thought should have bothered him but it didn't, instead it was comforting. Just like knowing Lex will be in Metropolis with him is comforting. The only thing dampening his mood was that he knew Lex should have moved a long time ago.

He wondered if he could get Lex to admit that too. "How come you're moving?"

"I thought we already established that."

"Because of me?" Clark knew he was pushing but he needed to be sure of a few things.

Lex looked relaxed but inside he was cringing. He really didn't want to talk about this. He could happily go the rest of his life without discussing his motivations but Clark was staring at him expectantly. Shit, well here goes nothing.

"The when is because of you. The why is only partially because of you," Lex answered.

"Okay, so why else?"

"Smallville's not exactly the business capital of the world," he pointed out. "It'll be easier, more efficient, and more productive if I ran LexCorp from Metropolis."

"If it would have been easier, how come you haven't moved there sooner?"

"I think that falls under the when explanation," Lex told him.

Which is what Clark's been worrying about, that he's been making things harder for Lex. He can't even imagine what Lex could have accomplished by now if he hadn't stayed behind for Clark. And will moving make a difference? He knew Lex would cancel meetings and trips in order to help him with school or if Clark just needed to talk and he doubted that would change just because they were in a different city.

A solution to this whole mess would be for him to stop running to Lex every five minutes. And even as he thought it, he knew he wouldn't do it. He had tried once before. When Lex had been particularly busy, Clark tried to leave him alone and not bother him. The most his resolve lasted was three days. At the end of the third day he was twitchy, irritable, and bordering on paranoid.

It got so bad that his Dad kicked him out of the fields, his Mom kicked him out of the house, and Chloe threatened bodily harm if he didn't get out of the Torch and get out now. He wound up wandering around town with an irrational fear that something was going to happen to Lex and he wouldn't be there to stop it. He finally couldn't take it anymore and before he finished his thought he was standing in front of the mansion.

Clark knew that he was messy and wind-blown from running because when he burst into the office Lex gave him an amused smile. "You're looking kinda rough Clark. Everything okay?"

"Yeah." He done a check of the entire grounds and scanned every room of the castle to make sure. Not ready to leave even if it didn't appear that Lex was in mortal danger, Clark flopped down on the couch, closed his eyes, and relaxed for the first time in three days.

That was nearly a year ago and Clark hadn't attempted to stay away from Lex since. And for completely selfish reasons he knew he never would. Which just made him feel guilty with an overwhelming need to apologize even though Lex wouldn't know what he was apologizing for.

"I'm sorry," Clark said risking a glance at his friend.

Lex looked confused, then thoughtful, and Clark had the sudden urge to distract him. He knew if he gave Lex time to think he'd figure it out. But too late his expression cleared with understanding and then, surprisingly... anger.

Getting up from the ratty old couch Lex took a few quick steps away before turning back. "You think I'm doing you a favor and you're taking advantage of me. You being self-serving and me the rich guy who befriended the small town farm-boy in some fucked up attempt at nobility. Well I hate to break it to you Clark but you're no where near that narcissistic and I'm not the altruistic type. I'm not doing this just for you."

Shaking his head like he couldn't believe he was actually having to explain this, Lex dropped his voice even lower. And that, more than anything told Clark that Lex was truly pissed off and not upset. When he was upset his voice went completely neutral, almost indifferent, but when he was mad he got intensely calm. Exactly like he was now.

"There's no doubt that I've invested a lot in this friendship, effort, time... money. But I haven't done it solely for your benefit. Ask anybody," he said waving his arms like he was going to conjure up people for Clark to ask. "My motivations are never selfless and I always expect a return on my investments."

"So what is it that you expect from me?" Clark asked, a bit startled to find that there wasn't much he wasn't willing to give.

Lex sunk back down on the couch, anger and energy draining away. "No less than you've been giving me, your time, support... concern"

He could do that. "No less," Clark echoed.

"No less," Lex agreed.

Not sure if he should ask Clark questioned, "What about more?"

Lex barked out a laugh that held more self-depreciation than humor. "I'm a greedy and selfish bastard who will take whatever I'm offered. Do us both a favor and don't ask me that again."

Clark didn't but neither did he promise not to ever ask again. He had a feeling the question might come up sometime in the future. Until then Clark settled himself with grilling Lex on what to expect this weekend.

"I figure we'll get there Friday evening have dinner, relax, and get ready for Saturday. Now Saturday is going to be busy. The morning's free so you can think of something you want to do or see but the commencement ceremony is supposed to start at 1:00 so we have to be back by at least noon. There'll be a bunch of speeches, a tour of the Towers and some mandatory chitchat but with any luck it'll be over by 5:00."

"Can we go see the campus?" Clark broke in. "I've only been there twice and I didn't really get to explore."

Lex gave him a disapproving look. "You're going to Metropolis for a graduation nonpresent and you want to go to school? No," he said not letting Clark answer, "pick something fun. You want to see the campus that bad I'll take you some other time but come this weekend I don't even want to hear you utter the word school."

"Umm, okay," he said already trying to think of something else. "What happens after the tour and talking?"

"We have dinner and then party."

Clark grinned, he couldn't wait.

But he did, barely. Hearing the limo pull up to the house late Friday morning Clark grabbed his bag, kissed his Mom, promised his Dad he'd be careful, and bolted out the door.

Lex laughed when he fell into the car before it even came to a complete stop. "The driver's going to think you don't like him, Clark. You're supposed to wait for him to stop the car and open the door for you. I thought we talked about that."

"We did," he said sweetly. "We also agreed I only have to follow the rich-people rules when we're in Metropolis. We're not there yet so..." he trailed off smiling.

"Fine but for finding loopholes in our verbal etiquette contract I get to take you shopping."

"Shopping?" Clark asked with something close to panic.

The smile Lex gave was evil. "If you think you're going to attend the all important opening of the LexCorp Towers in jeans and flannel you're sadly mistaken. So unless you have a suit tucked in that bag of yours we're going shopping."

He took Clark's silence as acceptance of the inevitable and started plotting on how to get the boy to wear Armani. It turned out it wasn't all that hard. A few carefully worded comments about how Lex was a little worried about all the media attention the opening was going to get and Clark was walking out of the store the owner of a very expensive Armani suit.

Once back in the limo and heading to the penthouse Lex couldn't resist teasing him a little more. "Don't pout Clark, just think how good you're going to look on the front of the Sunday edition of the Daily Planet."

Clark's sulking turned horrified. It wouldn't be the first time he had his picture in the paper because of Lex but he didn't want to be on the front page.

"They'll put you on the front page, not me." He hoped so anyway.

"Clark if you're anywhere near me when the cameras start flashing you'll be seen on the front of every major newspaper in the country."

It wasn't nice and seeing how disturbed Clark looked Lex wavered for a moment but his evil side won and he said, "You know if the pictures make you that uncomfortable I can always take you back home."

"What? No!" Clark all but shouted his disagreement and Lex snickered before he could stop himself.

Watching Lex laugh Clark took on a highly offended tone. "That was mean and incredibly immature," he stated.

Lex only laughed harder and Clark was about to resort to name calling when something caught his eye.

"Wow," he breathed leaning over Lex to see out the window.

"What? Oh..." Lex said turning to look. "They're something aren't they."

Which had to be the understatement of the century. The LexCorp Towers stood out proudly from everything else in downtown Metropolis. They were three of the tallest buildings in the city. In the center and 96 stories was LexCorp headquarters. Flanking it and just behind were twin columns each with 80 floors of restaurant and office space filled by affiliate and subsidiary companies belonging to Lex.

Strong and elegant, the Towers were a massive display of steel, concrete, and glass. They were a symbol of everything their creator would bring to the city, and quite possibly the country. They stood for the future... for change and the prosperity it would bring. They reflected the soul of the very person who built them and Clark couldn't look away.

"God, they're amazing Lex."

Clark had seen them under construction but this was the first time he'd seen them finished and he couldn't get over how incredible they were, how they almost looked... alive. Sunlight glinting off polished steel and violet tinted windows, they reminded Clark of giant sentries watching over their city. A city Lex was in the process of taking away from his father.

It was a bitter family battle that was fought in boardrooms, with buyouts and hostile takeovers. It was aired on the TV and scrawled across newspapers. The war between father and son had reached the status of a spectator sport. It was so popular that the media had given it a name. They dubbed it Clash of the Titans. And while Lex wasn't powerful enough to win yet, Clark knew it would only be a matter of time.

He would win because he had the support of the general population. Lex might be ruthless when it came to dealing with politicians and CEOs but he worked with, not against, your average Joe. The blue-collar workers loved Lex because he didn't just create jobs for them, he helped them keep those jobs. Lionel had once called his son's concern for the workers at the fertilizer plant weak and impractical, Lex had called it planning ahead.

It was those differences in father and son that would insure Lex his victory. People followed Lionel out of desperation and fear but they followed Lex out of faith and loyalty. There was really no question that Lex would win. It was just a matter of when.

Settling back in his seat with a shit-eating grin he nodded out the window to Lex. "You did it."

He was talking about more than just finishing the Towers and Lex knew it. "Yeah, I'm thinking I did."

"And you didn't turn into him."

It was something Lex was constantly worrying about. He wanted to beat Lionel so badly that he was sometimes willing to do anything. He was terrified that he'd win one day and wake up the next to discover that he turned into the man he despised.

"No, I'm still me. Although some would say that's not much better."

"It is," Clark assured. "And I'm proud of you."

"You are?" Lex asked looking as shocked as Clark had ever seen him.

Clark frowned. He hated it when Lex didn't understand or was surprised by things that he took for granted. Things like being cared about and worried about, like having family and friends who were proud of you when you accomplished something remarkable.

"Of course I am. You've done incredible things Lex. How could I not be?"

Lex shrugged, uncomfortable at the compliment and the sincerity behind it. "You're not going to hug me again are you?" he asked jokingly and hoping Clark wouldn't call him on his evasion.

Deciding to let him off the hook Clark shook his head. "No, you're safe for the moment but when you least expect it..." he trailed off leaving the threat of a hug lingering in the air.

"Thanks for the warning. Hey, check it out. We're here."

The limo pulled into a private entrance of the underground parking garage and stopped in front of an elevator that Clark guessed was also private. He earned a grin from Lex when he dutifully waited for the driver to open his door before he got out. Standing beside him Lex pointed to a keypad on the wall.

"Security already knows to give you access to anywhere in the Towers but for the private entrances and elevators you'll need a code. Be sure to think of one so I can set it up in the system."

It was Clark's turn to be shocked. He wasn't sure why but he didn't think he'd have the same freedom here that he did in the castle.

"Clark," Lex said again when he didn't get an answer.

"I'll think of one," he promised.

Satisfied with that, Lex punched in his own code and stepped in as the doors automatically opened. "There's an express elevator around here somewhere that takes you straight to my office or the penthouse but this one can stop at all the floors, including the below ground labs," he said showing Clark the buttons numbered SL-2 through SL-5.

"Are we going there now?" he asked looking down and letting his vision shift to see the science labs under them. They were already filled with people in white coats working on complicated machines and computers.

Clark had seen the labs on the blue prints and although he wasn't real comfortable with the fact that Lex was conducting experiments he knew it was needed. Not only because LexCorp had to stay competitive in the fields of science and medicine but also because Lex needed it. He was an incredible businessman but he was a scientist at heart, a scientist with an overwhelming need to understand everything. He always wanted to find an explanation for things, needed to find out how things worked so he could make them better, make more of them, or if necessary... make them disappear.

"Clark some things are dangerous," Lex had told him when he first asked about the labs and experiments. "If I can study them I can find out how to contain them or destroy them if I have to. Those labs are to help, not to hurt."

He hadn't questioned Lex about the labs again but he made a point of knowing what was going on with them. Lex didn't seem to mind. If anything he encouraged Clark, happy that he was taking an interest in something that was important to him, even if it was just to make sure he didn't clone babies or build a Frankenstein.

The jolt of the elevator brought Clark's vision back into focus. "No, you can play in the labs later," Lex told him. "I want to show you my office and the penthouse first."

After a surprisingly short ride up 95 floors they stepped out of the elevator and were immediately descended upon by a hard and very efficient looking women and a large very formidable looking man. Startled, Clark blocked their way to Lex without conscious thought. The way Lex tended to attract lunatics and stalkers it had become a habit to put himself between his friend and anything that even remotely resembled trouble.

When they saw the position Clark had taken they both gave him a puzzled look that turned understanding on the woman and approving on the man.

"Clark," Lex said touching his arm to let him know everything was okay. "This is Mrs. Laura Hutton my assistant and Terry Bennett head of LexCorp security."

Years of his Mom badgering good manners into him had Clark reaching out to shake hands before Lex had stopped talking. "This is Clark Kent," Lex said finishing the introductions.

"Nice to meet you," Clark said a little embarrassed that he mistook them for psychos but not apologizing for his protectiveness.

"And you too dear. I've heard a lot about you Clark Kent of Smallville," Mrs. Hutton said, her friendly voice at odds with her appearance.

Bennett just grunted a hello and turned to Lex. "I need to speak with you."

Lex was annoyed, he wanted to show Clark around not get dragged into meetings the second he walked through the door. "Can it wait?"

"It concerns the opening tomorrow."

Shit, that meant something serious. Sighing, he glanced at Clark to see how well he was going to take this.

"Go on," he said before Lex could apologize. "It'll give me time to look around."

"You sure?" He didn't want to leave Clark wandering around on his own but since he didn't know what Bennett wanted to talk to him about, he didn't want to have Clark come with him either.

Clark nudged him away. "Go."

Lex nodded. "What about you?" he asked his assistant.

Seeing how irritated he was she changed her mind about talking to him. "Mine can wait."

Trusting her to know what was important he walked away with Bennett in tow. "Do me a favor Clark," he called over his shoulder. "Stay on this floor. I don't want to have to send out a search party to find you."

Clark just smiled and gave his best who me look as Lex disappeared.

Taking in the easy interaction between her boss and his friend Laura figured it'd be a good idea to look out for the boy. She had already known the name Clark Kent and had standing orders to treat him as if he were Lex himself. She didn't know why but the young man standing before her was probably the most important and influential person in Lex Luther's life, which made him her first priority.

"Would you like something to drink?" she asked.

He did but... "I don't want to trouble you."

"It's no trouble. We can find something to drink and I can give you a tour of the place."

He tried to protest. "You don't have to do that."

Yes she did but that was beside the point. She wanted to know about the person responsible for her boss's frequent postponing and canceling of meetings. And she was more than a little curious to find out what it was about him that captured and held the interest of a man who was widely known as being nearly impossible to impress.

"Don't be silly," she told him. "This is the perfect excuse for me to take a break from work. Just don't tell Lex. He throws a fit when I play hooky."

Clark laughed at the conspiratorial tone of voice. "Your secret's safe with me," he said thinking he could really get to like this woman.

Lex was sure Laura would take care of Clark but he still didn't want to leave him alone too long. In a hurry to hear what Bennett had to say Lex didn't even bother to sit down.

"Well?" he asked leaning on his desk.

"There have been threats made against the opening in general and you in particular. Most of them have been checked out and are not believed to be dangerous but there are a few that have me concerned."

Great, just what he needed. "Tell me about them."

"They appeared to have been made by Matthew Conner, a former employee of LuthorCorp. He lost his job several months ago and according to family and friends he's become increasingly unstable."

"Then shouldn't he be after my father instead of me?" Lex thought so and he silently wished the man luck.

"It seems that when he and several hundred others were laid off your father gave the reason for it as, and I quote... `financial loses caused by my ungrateful son's attempt at destroying me.' He blamed you and apparently so does Matthew Conner."

God, he hated his Dad. The man never changed. He was doing the same thing he did years ago, ruining people's lives and blaming Lex for it. Still, he might be able to use this to his advantage. He'd have to get Laura to find out about these people his Dad fired. He'd give them jobs at LexCorp. He didn't need them but if anything, it would really piss off Lionel.

"So where's this guy now?" Lex asked.

Bennett shifted and Lex noticed for the first time how tense he was. "He's been missing for the last two days. I've got men out searching the city but so far they've turned up empty."

This just gets better and better, Lex thought. "Until you find him, I'm guessing you've taken precautions to make sure nothing goes wrong at the opening."

He did but he wondered how well his other suggestions would go over. His new boss paid top dollar but he was also fiercely independent, which made him difficult to protect. "Security will be tightened around the Towers and more men added, both uniformed and plain clothed to patrol throughout the guests. But taking into consideration the threats have been directed in large part toward you I suggest you allow a personal guard."

Lex didn't like the sound of that. "You mean during the ceremony?"

"I'd prefer permanently but since I doubt you'll go for that, then at least from now until this man is caught."

Lex didn't want to deal with a stranger hovering over him and Clark the whole weekend. "A guard for the opening is fine. The rest I'll think about."

"Mr. Luther I'm not sure you realize..."

"Was there anything else?" Lex cut him off.

"No sir." Bennett knew there was no arguing with him. He could only hope that Lex would decide to allow the guard. "I'll let you know when we have any new information on Matthew Conner."

Lex was already headed out of the office. "That's fine."

It took him nearly ten minutes to find his assistant and Clark. He walked into the one of the employee lounges to the sight of them eating donuts and watching TV.

Clark gave him a blinding grin when he saw Lex leaning against the door. "Hey Lex. You want one?" he asked holding up a partially eaten chocolate donut.

"Umm, no. I think all wait for dinner."

Shrugging Clark popped the rest of the donut in his mouth. "When is dinner?"

It was one thing that hadn't changed since he'd met Clark. The boy was always hungry. "When ever you want."

"Now's good," he said getting up and thanking Laura for showing him around.

Lex had to wonder how he did it. Ten minutes with Clark and Mrs. Hutton was suddenly Laura and her normally harsh demeanor was replaced by a charming and completely smitten woman who apparently had forgotten she was two decades older than Clark, not to mention married.

"Come on," Lex told him on the way back to the elevator. "I want you to see the penthouse before we go eat."

"What about your office?"

"What about it?"

"I didn't get to see it," he said detouring for a quick peek.

After ten minutes and an explanation of why Lex had a lava lamp in his office Clark finally got to see where Lex would be living.

He wandered through every room checking out closets and cabinets, fawning over the entertainment system, and rearranging the DVDs before he declared that life wasn't fair. That there was something wrong with a world where Lex got to live here and Clark had to live in the hell that was the freshman dorms.

"Clark you're welcome to stay here anytime you want but only under the condition that you don't ever fuck with my DVDs again," he said looking at the mess Clark was making of his movies.

That declaration got Lex a snicker and a cheerful, "Thanks Lex. Do you think Mom and Dad will let me?"

"I have no idea but I'd love to see you ask." There was no way they'd let him but Lex would pay good money to watch Clark try to talk them into it.

"C'mere," Lex said trying to distract Clark before he got to his CDs.

"What?" he asked even though he was already walking to where Lex was pointing.

Lex pushed a button on the wall. "This," he said as floor to ceiling drapes opened to reveal a huge window that showed the sunset at a height Clark had only dreamed of.

"It's just like the loft!" Clark was beaming. "Except... well... better. When did you do this? How did you do this? I mean, it wasn't on the blue prints. How come it wasn't on the blue prints?"

Lex held up a hand to stop the flood of questions. "It was a surprise."

"For me?"

"Well, yeah kinda. Do you like it?" he asked sounding uncertain.

"Like it? Are you crazy? I love it. It's... It's just like the loft," Clark repeated.

"A little bit," Lex agreed.

Actually Lex had spent a great deal of time and money to make sure it was exactly like Clark's beloved barn loft but he would endure years of torture before he admitted it.

"I figured you could come here if you got homesick," he told Clark feeling just this side of stupid.

Lex knew that if it were anybody other than Clark he wouldn't be caught dead being this sentimental. He also wasn't going to think about how much time and effort he spent trying to make sure that Clark felt as comfortable in Metropolis as he did in Smallvlle.

"God Lex."

Clark didn't know what to say. Lex was always doing things for him but this... this was so sweet and thoughtful. And just imagining the look on people's faces at hearing Lex described as sweet and thoughtful made Clark's smile widen.

Since he didn't think Lex would appreciate the description, Clark barely refrained from blurting it out. Instead he just looked at the sunset and then at Lex with something close to awe. "I can't believe you did this for me."

"Why not?" Lex asked sounding genuinely curious.

"Because I can't even think about how much trouble this was to do or how much money it cost. And all of it to remind me of home?"

"The money doesn't matter and a little trouble was worth it. This is going to be your first time away from Smallville. And just in case you felt alone in the big city I wanted you to have something familiar to make you feel better," Lex said gesturing to the window.

"You didn't need to do this," he insisted trying to make Lex understand something he realized a long time ago.

"I know I didn't need to but I wanted you to have somewhere to go if..."

Clark cut him off. "Lex I would have come here anyway, window or not."

Lex wasn't even going to acknowledge to himself how hearing that made him feel. He was used to people running away from him for safety, not to him. People came to him for favors, money, or a job. They didn't come to him for comfort. Nobody with an ounce of self-preservation would go to a Luthor for safety. And regardless of what anybody said he was a Luthor.

"But you're not Lionel."

Lex jerked not knowing he'd said that out loud.

"You're not Lionel," Clark repeated. "Luthor, but not Lionel. There's a difference."

Was there? Lex wasn't so sure. He knew he was capable of every cruel and heartless act Lionel had ever committed. He could feel it rolling through him with every decision he made. It was a wave of power that would break over him with just the thought of all that he could do. With an absently given order or the scribble of his signature he could destroy companies, jobs... lives.

He was always conscious of his ability to turn things to ruin and it was always a struggle for him not to do it. That wasn't the mark of a good man. He was going to tell Clark that but the boy was still talking.

"Your father is a mean and unfeeling person who gets off on hurting others."

Lex couldn't take it anymore. "So am I," he said angrily. "I just don't act on it."

Clark was adamant. "That's because it's not who you are. You care about people Lex, care about what happens to them."

Lex was shaking his head and walking away but Clark followed, arguing against his silent denial.

"Lex, selfish and uncaring men don't rearrange their lives for a friend. They don't offer unrestricted access to their company and home without so much as blinking. They don't give millions to charities anonymously or build daycare centers under a fake name. And they don't fucking put in bay windows just to cheer somebody up."

God he really didn't see it, Lex thought. He didn't see that Lex didn't do those things for other people or in a selfless act of benevolence. He did them for Clark. He did it so he wouldn't lose the only friend he'd ever had, the only person who didn't judge him with barely a glance. No, Clark didn't see it so there was no way Lex was going to point it out to him.

"You're putting your faith where it doesn't belong," Lex told him, "mistaking calculated decisions as kindness. Clark, for your own good you need to understand that everything I do is a means to an end. The steps might seem innocent but the result isn't."

It was Clark's turn for denial. "No."

"Yes. And if you're smart you'd leave now and never look back."

"I can't do that. I won't do that," Clark said holding his friend's gaze. "And not just because I don't want to or because you don't want me to. I won't leave because if I do you'll turn into your father and everybody will suffer."

Lex looked like he was ready to bolt but Clark risked a step closer anyway. "I'm not stupid Lex. I know it's hard for you to be good and I know the main reason you even try is because of me. I also know that if that reason were suddenly gone you'd be far more dangerous than Lionel could even dream of."

Another step and Clark was within arm's reach. "Lionel destroys out of cool indifference and the desire to win. You wouldn't care about winning. You'd destroy out of pain. You'd want everybody to hurt as much as they hurt you. If everyone in the world left you, you'd make the world pay."

"I..." Lex was going to say he wouldn't but the words stuck in his throat. He could see the certainty in Clark's eyes and he knew it was true. A lot of people would die if Clark ever turned his back on him. Lionel always said he was ruled by his emotions. It looks like he was right.

"I don't want that to happen," Lex said pushing the words out.

Clark was doing his best to sound confident. "It won't."

It felt like he'd swallowed broken glass and Lex really didn't want to talk about this anymore. "How can you be sure?"

"Because I'm not going to leave." Clark just prayed that it would be enough because if he ever had to fight against Lex, they'd destroy the world together.

Scrubbing a hand over his face and head, Lex nodded. He was willing, maybe even needed, to take Clark at his word. Clark would stay and keep him in check, everything would be okay.

"Look," Lex said clearing his throat. "I think I've reached my limit on soul-baring conversations. How `bout we shelve this for now and go have dinner?"

Clark agreed. He doubted either one of them could take much more honesty. "Yeah, but I don't want to go out. I saw stuff for hamburgers in the kitchen. We can make some and watch a movie."

"You want to make dinner? Can't we just call and have something sent up?"

"Careful Lex, your money's showing," Clark said giving his `let's humor the rich guy' look and tugging Lex toward the kitchen.

"Fine but since this cooking thing is your idea you're in charge of the manual part. I'll supervise."

Which was nothing less than Clark expected. And between the two of them, making dinner went surprisingly quickly, just like the rest of the night. After a movie and an argument about where they were going the next day it was pushing one in the morning. Clark finally had to remind Lex that this weekend was his non-present and he wanted to go to the aquarium.

"All right," Lex begrudgingly agreed, "but if you drag me anywhere near the shark exhibit I will never forgive you."

Clark snickered, Lex glared, and the next day found them both standing outside the shark tank.

Lex tilted his head at the huge fish. "I guess they're not so bad when you're not actually in the water with them."

"I told you so."

"Don't be a smart ass Clark or I won't let you drive back. Speaking of which," Lex said looking at his watch, "it's about time we left."

"Already?" Clark complained.

Lex handed over the keys to the Ferrari. "Yep. Say good-bye to the fishies and let's go."

Actually he'd rather stay but it really wouldn't look good for him to be late to his own opening. As it was his staff was probably thinking of ways to kill him for skipping out on the meeting this morning. Still, he was paying them enough that they should be able to take care of all the last minute details without him.

Turning off the car alarm and unlocking the doors Clark practically melted into the seat. Listening to the Ferrari roar to life he looked over at Lex and grinned. "I love this car."

"Really, I hadn't noticed." As a matter of fact he had.

Lex had made sure the car would be in Metropolis for them this weekend just because he knew how much Clark liked it. Although he didn't know why. The cobalt blue Ferrari wasn't all that different from the other cars that Lex had in his collection and those had never left an impression on Clark. But the first time the boy had seen this one it had been love and Lex was beginning to think it was mutual.

When he got the car a few months ago everything had been fine but after Clark had driven it and declared his eternal devotion, the car had turned on him. He's had three flat tires, ran out of gas twice although he's sure the tank was full, and more times than he can count it simply refused to start. The mechanic said there was nothing wrong with it and since it works perfectly as long as Clark's driving Lex is beginning to think it might be possessed.

When the doors wouldn't unlock he started to call it Christine and decided to just stay clear. If it weren't for Clark he'd get rid of the damn thing altogether, as it is he planned to just give it to the boy. He'd have to wait until Clark started school so his parents wouldn't be there to object but one way or another Lex had no intention of ever driving it again. Clark could have it and the way he was happily cutting through downtown Metropolis Lex really didn't think Clark would protest much when he handed over the keys for good.

And right about now Lex was glad he wasn't driving because even at noon the streets were crowded with cars and they barely got within three blocks of LexCorp Towers before they noticed that the traffic was being directed.

"Wow. So I guess this is a pretty big deal," Clark said taking in all the police and roadblocks.

"You could say that," Lex agreed pointing to a side street. "See if we can get through that way."

They didn't get far before they were stopped by Metropolis PD. Clark rolled down his window as the officer approached. "Sorry," the man said. "No street traffic is being allowed near the Towers. You'll have to go back the way you came."

"But what if we're trying to get to the Towers?" Clark asked.

"Public parking for people who want to view the ceremony is over on 34th street. LexCorp is offering shuttles to take you to the Towers but I wouldn't count on getting too close. People started showing up pretty early so it's packed."

Clark turned to his amused passenger. "Uh, Lex... help."

Taking pity on the boy and not wanting to be late he leaned forward so the cop could see him. "Officer," Lex said to get his attention. "It really is quite important I get to the Towers. They're sort of expecting me."

Clark was a little worried when the man went alarming pale. "Mr. Luthor I'm sorry, I didn't realize. Of course you can go on through or do you need an escort?"

Lex waved off the man's apology. "No escort but if you could make sure our way is clear to the South entrance, I'd appreciate it."

"Yes sir. I'll see to it right away," he said already reaching for his radio.

"Let's go," he told Clark and nodded his thanks to the officer.

"You know, I don't think I'll ever get used to that."

"What?" Lex asked looking over at Clark.

"The way people treat you, all the yes sir and whatever you want sir."

"You mean with respect," Lex said wryly "Just because you're a rude and disrespectful brat doesn't mean everybody else is."

"I'm not a brat," came the immediate denial and Lex smiled at the way Clark managed to sound both indigent and shocked that Lex would even suggest such a thing.

"It's just hard for me to see you like that," he continued.

"Like what?"

Clark shot him a look. "Like you're a god people are afraid of pissing off. They don't want to take the chance of making you mad so they obey you without question just to keep you happy."

That's exactly how people acted toward him and he could hear the disapproval in Clark's voice. "It's not my fault how people choose to treat me. I've never asked to be worshipped and I don't require anybody to pay me homage."

"You've never asked for it," Clark agreed, "but you love it and you use it."

"No more than you do," Lex shot back. No way he was going to get criticized for something that Clark was just as guilty of doing as he was.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that you play on the way people react to you the same as I do."

When he saw that Clark didn't understand or probably even realize what he was doing Lex tried to explain. "People might do what I want because they fear my disapproval but they do what they think you want because they don't want you to be disappointed in them. And you use that, not in a bad way but you still do it."

Clark was shaking his head but Lex wasn't sure if it was in disagreement or confusion. "You do Clark. I see it all the time. When you meet someone you automatically place them on the moral high ground. You take for granted that they're a good and honest person and treat them like they're truly important to you. People crave that type of acceptance and they'll do whatever they have to in order to keep it."

"Hell, I'm the perfect example," Lex continued warming up to the subject. "When people met the son of Lionel Luthor they expected a spoiled and irresponsible brat so that's what I gave them. They didn't care if I was a horrible person so there was no reason for me to try and be anything else. Then I met you and for the first time someone wasn't reflexively assuming the worst of me. And I'll admit, I liked it. I wanted to keep you around, wanted to be the person you thought I was."

This was nothing that Clark didn't already know. In fact they talked about this very thing last night but he didn't see how it added up to him using people. "Everybody wants acceptance but I've never used that against anybody."

"You don't use it against them but you do use it. You want everybody to do good things and in order to get them to, you give them an incentive."

Did he do that? He hadn't really thought about how he got people to do what was right, just like he hadn't thought about the incentive thing before. "What incentive?"

He could feel Lex looking at him as he gave Clark a one-word answer that held more meaning than an entire speech. "You."

There was nothing Clark could say to that, so he didn't even try. Instead he pointed to the mob of people in front of the main tower. There was a sound stage set up with microphones, news cameras, and still cameras and all of them were manned by reporters and journalists ready to immortalize everything that was said during the commencement address.

"That wasn't there when we left." It wasn't a question but there was a hint of doubt in the statement like Clark thought there was a possibility it might have been.

"They probably started setting it up not long after we snuck out," Lex said deciding to go along with Clark's need to change the subject. If Clark didn't want to look too closely at his actions Lex wouldn't make him. It's not like he was a big fan of self-reflection anyway.

Clark just nodded and turned the car away from the crowds and toward the garage entrance. He punched his new code into the gate like it wasn't the first time he'd ever used it and Lex had to smile at how normal it felt. Maybe too normal. Something about that should worry him but he had too much to worry about as it was without adding Clark's innate ability to insinuate himself into Lex's life.

He relaxed as soon as the gate shut behind them but immediately tensed again when he saw the group of people waiting in front of the elevator. It was his assistant Laura, the ceremony coordinator Sarah Peters, LexCorp vice-president Neil Davis, Bennett, and a man Lex is fairly certain was ex Secret Service turned private bodyguard.

Sighing Lex sunk down in the seat a little. He should have known that his escape this morning hadn't gone unnoticed and not taking his cell phone with him probably hadn't helped their mood any. And it seems that it pissed them off enough that they were, quite literally, lining up to lay into him and point out that this is simply not how a founder and president of a billion dollar company should act. Man, sometimes it really sucked to be a founder and president.

Clark stopped in front of the group but made no move to get out, neither did Lex.

"Don't let them ruin this for you," Clark said suddenly.

Lex raised an eyebrow in question and Clark gestured vaguely to the people by the elevator, the people outside, and the world in general. "This isn't their day, it's yours. Don't let them ruin it by turning it into something you have to do when it should be something you want to do."

If Lex were honest with himself he'd admit that this was the very selfish reason that he invited Clark along this weekend. He always reminded Lex that he didn't have to be or do what other people expected of him. He didn't have to pretend to be someone else. He could just be Lex and Lex did things like sneak off with his best friend to look at sea horses and sharks before what was very likely the most significant moment of his career.

"You know what," Lex said feeling better than he had any sane reason to be. "You're absolutely right."

Clark was shaking his head in solemn agreement. "I'm always right and I've got the T-shirt to prove it."

He couldn't help but smile as he got out of the car and a genuinely happy Lex must of really thrown his staff because they stayed silent until they were in cased in the elevator and on their way up 95 floors.

"Lex, we've been trying to reach you since before eight this morning. You didn't answer your cell," Neil said breaking the silence with a cross between a statement of fact and an accusation.

"Was there anything dire going on that you guys couldn't handle yourselves?" Lex wanted to know.

"That's not the point. You have a responsibility..."

Lex held up a hand and the speed that Neil stopped talking was incredibly satisfying.

"I'm aware of my responsibilities, just as I'm aware of your responsibilities," he said looking at each person in turn. "Which if I'm not mistaken includes dealing with the details of this day without me holding your hand."

When nobody said anything Lex continued. "Now is there anything of major importance that I need to know?"

Lex listened as Neil, Sarah, and Laura briefly explained that there were quite a few self-proclaimed important people that he should put in an appearance to before the speeches began but other than that everything was going smoothly. They were to met in the lobby and make their way out the front directly to the stage where politicians and CEOs would speak of the future and the role Lex would play in it. From there it was on to a quick tour then polite chitchat in one of the ballrooms.

"Sounds good to me," Lex said stepping out of the elevator.

When the three walked away leaving behind Bennett and ex Secret Service guy Lex gestured to his office figuring he might as well get this over with now. "You want to hang out or go up to the penthouse?" he asked Clark with a touch to his elbow.

"I'll stay."

That was probably a good idea. He was going to have to tell Clark about the threats anyway. As it was Lex guessed that he was going to be irritated that he hadn't been told already. Clark had a tendency to get a bit protective. Not that Lex thought that particular habit was a bad thing.

Settling next to Clark on the couch instead of behind the desk Lex started talking before Bennett could. "Save the lecture on personal safety and tell me what, if anything, you've found out and how we proceed."

Bennett hadn't planned on a lecture anyway, he knew it wouldn't do any good. "No news on Conner so there's still a very significant threat. Extra security is already in place around the building and I'd like you to meet Eric Thomas your personal guard," he said introducing the man next to him and not giving Lex time to argue against a bodyguard.

Clark hadn't said anything but Lex could feel him tense at the words threat and personal guard. Great, Lex was going to get it for sure for not mentioning this sooner. After a quick shake of hands and assurances that Thomas was very capable and very discrete Lex agreed that it was a good idea to have the man close by, but only for the ceremony he insisted.

"We'll meet you back here before heading downstairs," Lex told them.

It was more cooperation than Bennett had expected so he agreed quickly and left Lex alone to deal with a very upset Clark.

"You want to tell me what that was all about," Clark insisted as soon as the door shut behind the men.

Not really, Lex thought. "There have been a few threats. Nothing too serious but better safe than sorry."

Clark was pissed. "Threats? People have been threatening you and you didn't think to tell me about this. Like, oh I don't know, say before we went running around town?"

"It's not that big a deal and I didn't want to ruin our morning."

Not a big deal, Lex didn't think that someone wanting him dead was a big deal. Clark was about to explain in detail and with a lot of cussing just what a big deal it was but changed his mind. It's not like it would help. Lex was a magnet for the psychotic and homicidal so there was nothing Clark could do but be extra watchful and keep Lex safe himself. He'd have to get rid of that Thomas guy so he didn't get in the way but he'd deal with that later.

"Come on," Clark said getting up. "We still have to change and Mom wanted me to call her before everything starts."

Lex didn't move. This wasn't how it was supposed to go and Lex hated it when things didn't go the way they were supposed to. Clark should be worried about the threats and mad that Lex hadn't said anything about them. He should be telling Lex off in his deep, surprisingly intimidating voice that only came out when he was angry. He might even use the word fuck, `what the fuck were you thinking,' `why the fuck didn't you tell me.' And hearing Clark talk like that always filled Lex with both guilt and pride. It was tangible evidence of the little ways Lex had rubbed off on him and he shouldn't be proud of that, but he was.

"How come you're not yelling at me?" Lex asked.

"No reason to. You know you fucked up. The only thing I'm going to ask is for you not to do it again."

"Fair enough," Lex said getting up and following Clark out. Actually it was more than fair and since it got him a cussing Clark without a lecture in sight he wasn't about to complain.

Back in the penthouse Clark hung up the phone and took a deep breath. Man, that was not fun. Ten minutes of his Dad's `did you know you're going to be on TV and in the papers' and his Mom's `please be careful and oh yeah, have fun' and he was ready to scream. That along with the fact that he hadn't thought of a way to ditch Lex's bodyguard and Clark was beginning to think he was getting his first headache ever.

"Everything okay on the home front?" Lex asked walking into the living room in a charcoal gray suit that had to of cost a small fortune.

"Yeah, they just worry. You look good," he added after a second.

"Thanks. So do you," Lex said brushing off the complement and reaching out to fix Clark's collar and smooth down his tie.

The movement was so natural that Lex didn't even realize he was doing it until he felt the material under his fingers. It only took a moment for tactile memory to kick in reminding him of proms, and tornadoes, and decisions that shouldn't have been that hard to make. Stepping back the memory faded as he saw the amused and tolerant look Clark was giving him.

"What?" Lex asked making it a challenge, daring Clark to say something about his fussing.

Clark held up his hands in surrender. "Nothing. Not a thing. Zip. Zero. Zilch."

"Shut up," he said trying not to smile. Clark could really be a smart-ass sometimes and it'd serve him right if Lex didn't give him any warning but...

"You should know," Lex said seriously, "that there's going to be quite a few people interested in you. Mayor Weston you know, but there are a couple of Senators and dignitaries, a foreign diplomat or two, and some others that have requested to meet you."

"Why?" Clark asked a flash of panic crossing his face.

"Clark, your name's come up on occasion and since you're my only personal guest attending, you have to expect people to be curious."

That's right. He should have thought of that. People were going to want to know who he was and what he was doing here. Lex usually kept anybody who asked questions away from Clark but he couldn't very well tell Senators and diplomats to mind their own business. Well, he could and probably would if Clark asked him to but it wouldn't do his political career much good. Still, just the thought of answering questions made Clark nervous.

"What am I supposed to tell them?"

"The truth. They're not going to interrogate you," Lex told him. "They're just curious. If they start asking questions that make you uncomfortable, smile and change the subject. They'll get the hint."

Clark nodded and figured that this was as good a time as any to mention the guard. "Yeah, all right but what about that guy Thomas? You sure he knows what he's doing?"

"Don't worry Clark these people are the best in the business."

He shrugged not at all impressed and was seriously considering just asking Lex to get rid of the guy. But maybe he wouldn't have to because Lex was looking at him like he could read his mind. Maybe he could, it wouldn't be the first time he knew exactly what Clark was thinking.

"You don't want him around." It wasn't a question so Clark didn't answer. "Is it this man in particular or would you object to anyone?"

"It's just, you don't even know him. How can you trust him to keep you safe?"

Lex had a feeling there was more to this than Clark was saying but that was hardly anything new. For as honest as Clark was he rarely said what he meant. And Lex had learned that if he didn't want to see Clark look guilty and lie, it was better not to ask and just trust him. The results were usually preferred and a lot less painful for Lex anyway.

"Okay," Lex said slowly trying to guess what it was that Clark wanted. "Would you feel better if I got a guard I knew or just declined one all together?"

Clark didn't say anything but Lex could read the answer in his eyes. He just sighed and hoped that Clark knew what he was doing. "Come on, we have to get downstairs and tell Bennett I won't be needing a guard after all."

He felt Clark relax as soon as he spoke and Lex knew that if it were anybody else his paranoia would be off the charts. The fact that Clark didn't want him guarded should be unsettling. Instead Lex only found himself to be mildly curious and interestingly enough, feeling more secure than he had been. Unfortunately Bennett didn't seem to share those feelings.

"Mr. Luthor, I don't like it but I'm willing to concede the guard when you're inside the building but outside during the speeches you will be incredibly exposed. I simply can not guarantee your safety when you refuse to cooperate."

Lex almost felt sorry for the guy. As it was it took three witness and a hastily drawn up release of liability form to calm him down. He wanted it in writing stating that he was not responsible for Lex once he was outside the Towers. He could only promise that the building themselves would not be breached. With everyone finally satisfied and the papers signed they headed downstairs in one of the main elevators.

"It's so I can make a proper entrance," Lex explained when Clark commented on the different elevator. "This one opens up in the middle of the lobby and in plain sight."

"So everybody in the room is going to be staring at us the minute we step out."

"Yeah," Lex agreed with an evil smirk. "And the whole country will be staring at us the minute we step out of the building."

For a second Clark forgot why he ever thought this weekend was a good idea.

"Because," Lex reminded him, "if we live through the opening we get to go to a kickass party afterward."

That's right, the party. The party that he gloated to his friends about. The party he really, really wanted to go to even if that meant having the country see him in thousands of dollars worth of Armani and smack dab in the middle of some of the richest most powerful people in the world. Well, when he thought about it like that he supposed there could be worst things.

"What are you smiling for?" Lex asked as the elevator came to a stop and revealed people that, four years ago Clark wouldn't have had a chance in hell of ever meeting.

"Just thinking that this could be kinda fun."

Lex gave him a crooked grin completely ignoring the two dozen or so people staring expectantly at them. "I knew eventually you'd get into this whole public thing. You're a born people-person Clark and everybody in this building, waiting outside, and watching on TV... they're just people. And they're going to love you."

Clark had his doubts but Lex seemed pretty sure.

"Trust me, just act like yourself and they'll be following you around like puppies." Lex should know. It's what he's been doing for the past four years. Whatever it was that drew people to Clark he hadn't been immune and neither would these people.

With that last bit of advice Lex started walking toward the crowd feeling Clark fall in step without a moments hesitation. He knew the boy was nervous and he'd give him points for not showing it but Clark really didn't have any reason to worry. He'd been to enough museum openings and charity events by now to know that he could hold his own with any of the politicians and businessmen that always seemed to want his opinion.

And sure enough the way he spent the next half-hour working the room and confidently shaking hands with everybody, nobody could think anything other than this is exactly where he belonged. Smallville might as well of been a million miles away because as Lex watched Clark give a devastating smile and kiss the hand of Emily Price heiress to the most prestigious winery in North America, there wasn't a hint of Kansas farm boy in sight.

"It looks like you want to take credit for him," Mayor Weston said nodding towards Clark. "Created and shaped by Lex Luthor, I present America's ideal. Charm, strength, and intelligence all rolled into one young man. Available soon at stores near you. Copyright LexCorp. Patent pending. Void where prohibited."

Lex laughed despite himself. "I can't take credit for creating him, only discovering him. Clark is his own man and not easily influenced."

Weston had to agree. Anyone who could handle Lex Luthor the way this boy did must be as strong in character as he was in body. "How did you meet anyway?"

"I ran him over," Lex dead panned.

"I should have known," Weston said shaking his head. "You never were one for subtlety Lex."

"Subtlety is for men who can't afford to offend their peers. Isn't that right Lex?"

"Hello Dad," Lex drawled not bothering to turn around. "Glad you could make it." He was hoping Lionel wouldn't show up. He should have known better.

"Speaking of money," Lionel continued as if Lex hadn't said anything, "you should give that Kent boy a raise. I think he might be the best PR man you've ever had. He's been talking about you like you're the next messiah and with a face that honest people are starting to believe him."

"Clark's my friend, not an employee." God, Lex hated it that his Dad knew exactly how to get to him. Clark was his biggest asset but also his biggest vulnerability and Lionel knew it.

Lionel looked disgusted. "You're going soft Lex. I taught you better than this. Friendship is a myth perpetuated by Hallmark, it's not for men like us."

"And don't even try to deny how alike we are," Lionel said before Lex could do just that. "No matter what happens between us, no matter who wins this war, the one thing that will never change is the fact that you are your father's son. The blood in your veins and on your hands proves it."

Lex didn't have a chance to say anything because Clark was suddenly at his side looking both furious and eerily contained. He had heard Lionel start in on Lex and knew he had to do something before they caused a scene. "Lex can I talk to you for a second?" Clark asked, deliberately ignoring Lionel.

"Young Mr. Kent," Lionel greeted with a broad and completely false smile. "You've become quite the fixture in my son's life. It seems that, unlike your father, you don't let pesky things like morals and ethics get in the way of a profitable opportunity."

"Clark." Lex took a hold of his elbow to urge him away. He didn't want his Dad cutting into his friend just for the sake of amusement.

Clark shook off his hand and turned to face Lionel. The movement was so out of the ordinary that Lex was at a loss. Clark never pulled away from him, ever. Just like he would avoid Lionel whenever he was around but it seemed today was a day of firsts because Clark was stepping away from Lex and towards his Dad.

"You're going to lose everything," he said simply and with a certainty that was unnerving. "And when you do you'll be known as nothing more than the father of Lex Luthor. You'll have no name and no family... and no one to blame but yourself."

"You seem quite confident of this future. I'm curious as to why," Lionel said not showing how much Clark's words affected him.

"If you knew your son at all, you wouldn't have to ask me that."

Clark turned around not saying anything else. It wouldn't do any good and he knew it. Lionel just couldn't understand the faith that he had in Lex, the unwavering belief that if Lex wanted something badly enough, he would get it. And right now he wanted to win or more accurately, he wanted Lionel to lose.

Focusing on Lex, Clark lightly touched his arm in silent apology for pulling away. "Can we talk?" he asked again.

"Yeah. Come on," he said more than ready to be away from his Dad.

They barely took a step when Clark saw Lionel's hand shoot out. Clark moved in a blur and captured the man's wrist in a punishing grip just before he could grab Lex. All three looked down at the two inches of space separating father and son. It was closer to a mile.

"Don't ever do that again," Lex said. It was an empty warning given years ago that now held the weight of severe consequences should it be ignored.

Realizing that Lex was serious Lionel nodded and watched as his son gave a silent order for Clark to let go. The boy immediately dropped his hand and Lionel had to admit that he was impressed but also a bit surprised. Clark had the heart of a protector and it was no secret that he'd saved Lex from his own misfortune on several occasions. The boy had an obvious hero complex so Lionel had expected him to try and defend Lex now. What he hadn't expect was for Lex to let him, to feel so comfortable with it that he barely even acknowledged what Clark had done.

Lex just didn't do that. He never let others fight for him. He hadn't hid behind anyone or anything since he was a child, not since the sky opened over Smallville and rained fire. Lionel knew that was the turning point in his son's life. Those meteors had stripped away his hair but also his fear and innocence.

He remembered when Lex came out of the coma. Lionel had walked in the hospital room to see his child, not asleep and helpless, but sitting up and calmly removing the IV from his own arm. Lex barely glanced at him before reaching over and methodically shutting off the beeping and chirping monitors.

Lionel didn't do or say anything. He somehow knew that the next few moments would determine how the rest of their lives played out. He also knew that the first move had to come from Lex. So he stood at the foot of the bed, completely silent and waited for his son to decide their future.

Lex had looked up in pure challenge. Daring him to say something as he ran a hand over his bald head in a gesture now so familiar Lionel saw it in his sleep. He didn't say anything but maybe the silence was telling enough because Lex nodded as if agreeing with him, then spoke in a voice thick with irony.

"Did you know," he said eyes still locked on his Dad, "that we just began studying Norse mythology in school. We were told to pick a god to write a paper about. I picked Loki."

Loki, a fire demon turned god, notorious for getting into and causing trouble both effortlessly and endlessly. He was known to be charming, mischievous, and simply too clever for his own good. He was also spiteful, malicious, and needlessly destructive. Yes, he could see how Lex would connect Loki to the Smallville meteor shower, even believe him responsible for it.

Over time Lionel started to believe it too. He started thinking that Loki wasn't just to blame for the meteors but for Lex himself. Every year that went by Lex became more and more like that hateful little deity. And just as the gods of Asgard failed to control Loki, he failed to control Lex.

His mother was the only one with any influence over him and after she died, Lex gave a whole new meaning to the term teen rebellion. Lionel had put him in the harshest boarding schools he could find, even threatened to disinherit him as punishment but nothing worked.

The last time Lionel had attempted any form of discipline was when Lex was sixteen. He had been missing from school for over a week when Lionel finally found him in a sleazy motel in Hong Kong. He was naked, high, and completely unrepentant. That night was the first and last time he ever hit Lex. Backhanded him as hard as he could and not nearly as hard as he wanted to.

Lex went to his knees from the force of the blow, spitting blood, and making choking noises. Lionel was worried until he realized that Lex was laughing. He sat back on his heels looking almost feral and slowly wiped a bloody lip that would eventually scar. His eyes were still a little wild but his voice was utterly calm when he finally spoke.

"It's not quite what you're thinking Dad."

Lionel was waiting for Lex to give him excuses and justifications about running off but instead he talked of something he hadn't mentioned since he was nine.

"Loki got a bad rap," said conversationally, like he wasn't kneeling on a filthy carpet, naked and bleeding. "His behavior might have been a little excessive at times but it was always purposeful. Even if that purpose was only to gain experience and test limits."

"Is that what you're doing Lex, testing me?"

He shook his head disappointed, like Lionel should have figured it out already. "Not you Dad... me. This is my test. A trial by fire and worthy of a god."

At first Lionel had to wonder just what Lex had taken and if he was delusional. But he knew he couldn't blame this on drugs anymore than he could blame it on Loki. No, this was Lex. Lex with his innate ability to be at his absolute best even when he was at his absolute worst.

Well that was fine. If Lex wanted to turn adolescence into a self-imposed tribunal, there was nothing Lionel could do about it. He did have a request though.

"Don't kill yourself Lex. I need a heir and LuthorCorp will need a successor."

"I have no intention of dying," Lex assured him.

Lionel took in their less than safe surroundings and arched an eyebrow doubtfully.

Standing up more gracefully than a beaten and drugged sixteen year-old should be able to, Lex crossed the room and pulled on a pair of jeans. After rooting around in a bag and grabbing a towel he wiped his mouth gingerly.

"Despite how it looks," he said waving a hand in the air, "I'm not in any real danger."

"Lex the door wasn't even locked. Anybody could have walked in here."

"Not anybody," Lex corrected with a smirk that had Lionel twitching to hit him again. "Those men you saw outside, they're rather unpleasant, heavily armed, and working for me. If you were anybody else you wouldn't have gotten near the door, let alone near me. Even now all I'd have to do is yell and you'd be a very unhappy man."

He should have known. Lex was smart. Of course he'd take precautions. But still... "How come you didn't call for them?"

Lex cocked his head curiously. "Why would I?"

"I hit you," Lionel reminded him, pointing to the bloody towel.

Lex threw it into the corner dismissing the entire incident. "I deserved it. Besides, I fight my own battles."

"Are we battling Lex?"

"Aren't we always?"

Yes, they were. It was one of the few things in their relationship that remained constant. The struggle for power and control was ongoing and always with themselves as the only combatants.

But now it seemed that Lex was changing the rules because standing before Lionel was a young man willing to go to battle for Lex... and Lex was willing to let him.

Lionel gave Clark a long, measured look. He was definitely capable but he was also very young and in way over his head. Even if they tried not to, the boy would be destroyed. Lionel was actually a little surprised he wasn't damaged already. Whether it was a gift from Loki or the meteors Lionel wasn't sure but he'd learned a long time ago that nobody got near Lex without getting burned, not even him.

"He's going to get hurt," he told Lex. "Are you sure you want to do this?"

Lex didn't even hesitate. "I couldn't get rid of him if I wanted to. Besides, he's stronger than he looks."

"Very well," Lionel sighed. Once Lex made up his mind that was pretty much it. Still, he wouldn't go after the boy unless he had to. He didn't think hurting Jonathan Kent's only child would be a good idea. The man hated him enough as it was. And even if Jonathan didn't kill him, Lex certainly would.

"I'm afraid due to a previous engagement I won't be able to stay for the rest of the ceremony. I trust we'll continue this later," Lionel said giving Lex a steady look.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Good," Lionel said grinning and walking away. "Because that's exactly what it would cost you."

Lex rolled his eyes at his father's penchant for being dramatic and turned back to Clark. "Well, that wasn't nearly as bad as I'd anticipated."

"What do you mean anticipated? What was he even doing here?"

"I invited him."

"You what?" Clark asked incredulously. "Why did you... You know what? Never mind. I don't want to know. Just warn me the next time that you plan a match between the two of you."

Clark didn't pretend to understand why Lex felt the need to subject himself to Lionel. He asked one time but Lex only gave him a twisted grin and said something about deepseeded masochistic tendencies. It was the same grin that Lex was giving him now.

"Why, do you want time to run or get ringside seats?"

"Neither," Clark said patiently as he tugged Lex back into the fray of politicians and businessmen. "I'm your corner man. And everybody knows that a fighter is only as good as his corner man."

"Clark you have been watching way too much ESPN if you're making boxing references."

Clark didn't say anything but Lex laughed as he was shoved none too gently toward Emily Price. She reacted to his rare good mood the same as everybody else, with both surprise and interest. People weren't used to a happy Lex and it showed. They all gathered around vying for his attention until it was announced that it was almost time for the speeches.

As soon as Clark heard the announcement he tensed. With Lex safely in the building and guards at all the entrances he'd been able to relax and almost forget about the threats. But now Lex was going outside where there were several thousand people, any of which might want him dead.

Walking over to the front doors Clark scanned the crowd the best he could. He didn't see anybody with a gun that shouldn't have one but with all the television and news equipment everywhere, it was hard to tell. He was just going to have to be extra careful and make sure he had a clear line to Lex at all times. There was a perfect place just off to the side of stage where he could keep an eye on everything and still get to Lex if something happened.

"Lex," Clark said feeling it as soon as the man stepped close. "Is it okay if I hang out right over there during the address?"

"I don't see why not," Lex answered looking where Clark was pointing.

He had a pretty good idea why Clark was so interested it that particular spot so he wasn't even going to ask. Tactically it was the best place to watch the crowd and still be able to protect someone on the stage and he guessed that's exactly why Clark had picked it. Lex smiled. It seems that he was going to get a personal guard after all.

"Was there anything else you wanted or wanted to change before we go out?" Lex asked knowing it was better to follow Clark's suggestions when it came to his safety. He had seen too many things in the past four years to start doubting Clark's abilities as a protector now.

"Not really," he said looking at Lex uncertainly. "Just could you make sure Bennett knows not to interfere in case I need to... ah, do something."

"I'll do better than that," Lex said waving Bennett over.

"Mr. Luthor," Bennett asked as he approached, "was there something else I could do for you?"

"Yeah there is. I realize that this is short notice but I need you to let your men know Clark will be in charge of my personal safety, at least for today."


"Mr. Luthor!" Both Clark and Bennett said shocked.

Lex held up a hand to quiet them. Bennett clamped his mouth shut, Clark didn't.

"Lex that's not what I asked you to do."

"Maybe not," he said regarding his friend closely. "But you can't tell me it's not what you want. You've been checking up on every guard since we came downstairs. You've been gauging the threat potential of every guest and only letting certain ones near me. Everybody else you manage to distract and redirect. And I won't mention the fact that you've been subtly putting yourself between me and anything even remotely more dangerous than a two year-old."

Clark was looking both sheepish and defiant by the time Lex was done talking. "I'm not going to apologize for trying to keep you safe."

"I'm not asking you to. I'm asking that you work with Bennett to help keep everybody else safe as well. If Bennett knows that you'll be responsible for me then he can concentrate on everything else."

"I... I hadn't thought of that," Clark said managing to look up at Lex even though he was four inches taller. "And you're okay with that? I mean, with just me looking out for you."

"You've kept me alive this long Clark. I really don't think I need anybody else."

The smile Clark gave him was blinding.

"And don't look so smug," Lex warned as he held back his own grin.

"Mr. Luthor," Bennett interrupted, "are you sure this is wise? I'm certain Mr. Kent only has your best interests at heart and I admit to being impressed with the way he's been running interference between you and the guests but his lack of experience in threatening situations could put you both in danger."

"I appreciate your honestly," Lex told him, "but your concerns are unnecessary and unfounded. Clark knows what he's doing. And while you're in charge of all other security, when it comes to my personal safety you'll take your lead from Clark. Am I making myself clear?"


Bennett still wasn't totally convinced but he wasn't about to argue and not just because it'd be professional suicide to oppose Lex Luthor. He'd told the truth, he was impressed with the boy. He'd been watching the way Clark was constantly aware of his surroundings and their proximity to Lex. It was obvious he knew how to spot danger and would react to it. Yes, despite Clark's youth Bennett could tell he did indeed know what he was doing. He just hoped it'd be enough.

"Good. You guys got about five minutes to work things out," Lex told both Clark and Bennett. "I'll be over with the Mayor. Come get me when you're done."

Watching Lex walk away without a care Clark felt the need to apologize. "Sorry about that," he told Bennett. "Lex can get kinda..."

"Assertive," Bennett suggested.

"Well, I was gonna say pushy and overbearing but I guess assertive works too."

Bennett stifled a laugh. "Yes, but he does have a point. You seem to know him better than anyone I've seen. You can predict what he'll do and how he'll react in a situation so it stands to reason you'd be the best one to protect him."

It was true and not just because of his abilities. More often than not he knew what Lex was going to do before Lex did. That and he was constantly, almost unconsciously, aware of the man. Clark didn't have to watch or listen, he just seemed to know where Lex was and what he was doing. And as much as he tended to get into trouble it wasn't something Clark questioned, he was just grateful for it.

"I guess so. But what do we do now?" Clark asked not exactly sure what it was they were supposed to work out.

"Now you tell me what you had in mind for keeping your friend safe."

That, he could do. And Bennett didn't merely humor him because of Lex, he listened and approved of almost every suggestion Clark made. They even managed to come up with a solid plan to keep Lex from getting mobbed by reporters but it did take a little longer than the five minutes Lex gave them.

"You're late," Lex said making a show of looking at his watch when Clark and Bennett came to get him.

Bennett apologized, Clark stuck out his tongue, and Mayor Weston who'd been watching the exchange just shook his head and laughed.

Lex gave a tolerant sigh. "Real mature Clark."

"Hey, I'm not the one bitching about two extra minutes."

"Keep it up," Lex said in a tone that had most people shrinking back, "and I'll send you home hog-tied and in the trunk of a car."

"You wouldn't do that."

"I've done it before."

The smile Clark had been wearing faded a bit. Sometimes he wasn't entirely sure when Lex was kidding and when he was serious. And although he was pretty sure Lex was kidding about sending him home in the trunk, Clark didn't doubt that he'd done it to someone. For a moment Clark felt vaguely sorry for whoever it was but it passed when he figured the guy probably deserved it.

"Gentlemen, don't you think you've kept the world waiting long enough?" the Mayor interrupted still smiling and nodding at the crowd outside.

"Probably," Lex said unconcerned that he was making a whole lot of people wait.

Sighing Lex looked over at Clark. "Anything I should know before we walk out there?"

"No, but if I tell you to do something just do it and trust that it's for your own good."

"Getting kinda pushy, aren't you?" Lex joked.

Clark's good mood completely fell away. Lex still wasn't taking this seriously and it could very well get him killed. "I'm not fucking around Lex. If something happens out there I won't have time to explain so just promise you'll do what I say and ask questions later."

Bennett was once again impressed with the way Clark was handling the situation and at the same time very glad he wasn't the one having to get in the face of a Luthor. Weston on the other hand wasn't just impressed, he was amazed. He had never seen anyone talk to Lex like that and what was even more surprising was that Lex wasn't in the least bit angry. If anything he looked pleased, even proud, that Clark was standing up to him.

"Okay," Lex said soothingly. "In the interest of keeping me in one piece, I'll do what you say and save my questions for later."

When Clark only glared and stayed silent Lex threw up his hands in surrender. "Fine," he snapped, "I promise. You happy now?"

"Yeah," Clark said smiling brightly and gesturing to the doors with a sweep of his arm. "After you Mr. Luthor, your public awaits."

"Prick," Lex grumbled already striding outside as the doors seemed to magically open for him. Clark just snickered and fell in step with his best friend. Which Clark thought was fitting considering that that's pretty much how it's been since they met, a few arguments, a lot of bickering, but in the end the two of them facing the world together.

And as they walked out into a sea of applause, flashing cameras, and shouted questions Clark moved a little closer to Lex as he looked doubtfully at the thin line of Metropolis police trying to hold it all back. Clark quickly steered Lex to the stage hoping that if he started talking the crowd would calm down. It turned out that he didn't have to say a word.

The moment Lex took up his position in front of the microphones everybody began to settle. He glanced to make sure all the other scheduled speakers were in place before briefly locking eyes with Clark and focusing his attention back on the crowd. He still didn't say anything. He just looked over the people, the cameras, and the miles of cable and wires that connected it all.

Bracing his hands on the podium Lex leaned forward, eyes showing not just satisfaction but... ownership. They might not realize it yet but these people and millions of others belonged to Lex. They willingly gave control of their money, businesses, homes, and happiness to a man who had yet to decide if he wanted to rule the world or destroy it.

The fact that he was capable of either nearly made him laugh out loud. Instead he straightened and held his arms out in what could have been victory or surrender. Clark had a feeling it was both.

"I wrote a speech for this moment," Lex informed everyone, dropping his hands and letting a quirk of a smile escape. "I think I was eleven at the time. And if memory serves it consisted mostly of bad Alexander the Great references, promises of a grand future, and a stead chant of, I won, I won, I won."

The audience laughed and Clark took a second to watch Lex in full charm mode. It really was an amazing sight.

"I've rewritten it numerous times throughout the years," Lex continued. "My comparisons of modern businessmen and Greek monarchs were refined, my promises became more realistic but no less grand, and with significant effort I toned down my shameless gloating. Although I'll admit the urge is still there."

Lex shook his head as if remembering and spoke like he was talking to just one person and not an ocean of them. "The details of the speech were constantly changing, the location, the setting, the people that would surround me. But the one thing that never changed, that I never doubted, was the unwavering belief that I would give it. It's that belief, that strength of conviction that I ask you to trust in."

"I'm not asking you to place your hopes and dreams in my success in business, my knowledge of science, or even the tons of steel and concrete that stand behind me. I'm asking you to trust the fact that I not only believed that I would give this speech but that I would make the contents a reality."

"In a few moments the men you see behind me will tell you of things to come, of ideas, plans, and changes that must take place in order to secure the financial and economic success of the future. A future I believe in. A future I can help you achieve but only if you believe as well."

Lex took a step back from the podium and smoothed a hand over his head. His voice going softer from a memory only he could see. "Sixteen years ago I thought I'd lost my life, fortunately it was only misplaced. Four years ago I found it in a most unlikely place, with the help of a most unlikely person. Three years ago I offered a group of men a chance to lead their own lives, to shape their own destiny and all they had to do was stand with me. They did and it was the inception of the fastest growing and most promising company the world has ever seen. Now I'm offering you the same opportunity."

"I'm not a man of honor," Lex admitted ruefully, "and I won't pretend to be. But I am a man of conviction. If you stand with me, with LexCorp, I promise you that there is nothing from this Earth that's capable of stopping us."

The applause that erupted was overwhelming but it wasn't what made Clark flinch. The speech had been too honest and held more truth than Lex could ever know. But Clark knew. He's known for a long time that if Lex ever needed to be stopped he'd be the only one strong enough to do it. He also knew the only way Lex could be stopped would be to kill him.

What scared Clark the most was that he wasn't sure of he'd be able to do it. If it came down to a choice between saving the world or letting Lex live, he honestly didn't know which one he'd choose. His mind assured him he'd pick the world but his heart kept showing him a graveyard filled with everyone he loved, everyone but Lex.

Clark took a deep breath to push away the vision and focused on the cheering crowd. They were exited but controlled and Clark didn't see anything that suggested trouble. He half listened as Lex introduced the other speakers, promised to answer a few questions before the ceremony ended and stepped away so the Mayor could take his place at the podium.

As Lex turned around his eyes instinctively found Clark's and he was surprised to see the boy trying to hide a troubled expression. At first he thought it might be a security problem but something told him this was far more personal. He gave Clark a look of both curiosity and concern but all he got in response was a quick jerk of the head and a silent order to sit down and ask questions later.

Regretting his earlier promise to Clark he sat down and vowed to thoroughly interrogate his friend once all this was over with. Which he futilely prayed would be soon. Listening to long-winded bureaucrats had never been his idea of a good time. And apparently that aspect of his personality wasn't a secret because Lex noticed that the speeches were remarkably short.

He barely had time to get bored before he was back in front of the microphones and replying to questions without really answering them. He fielded the questions about his father with the ease of long practice and was frustratingly vague about his interest in going into politics. He ended the interviews with a question that made him grin.

"Mr. Luthor, some people have suggested that to give you reign in a political arena would be the equivalent of supporting a dictatorship and sanctioning an era of tyranny. How do you respond to such statements?"

"My response," Lex said in a mixture of amusement and seriousness, "would be an attempt to allay those concerns by pointing out that if I was an advocate of totalitarianism I wouldn't be standing here asking for your faith. I'd be demanding your loyalty. Rest assured that when I find myself in a position of governmental authority it will be as a leader, not a lord."

The reaction, when it came was a bit startling. There was a moment of near silence before a wave of mixed and jumbled words hit the stage. Words like, `officially running, campaign, and candidacy' were thrown in an odd combination of question, accusation, and plea. The sheer force and emotion that came from the crowd had Lex taking an automatic step back just as Clark was taking one forward.

The controlled energy that the people had been radiating suddenly became restless and to Clark that meant dangerous. He wanted Lex off the stage and in the Tower and he wanted it now.

"Lex," Clark yelled, "time to go."

With the noise all around them there was no way that Lex could have heard but he turned toward his friend just the same. Seeing Clark walking up to him calmly but urgently Lex let himself be led off the stage just like he promised, without question. When they were well away from the stage he saw Clark wave a hand at Bennett and before he could even blink they were flanked by a half-dozen guards and on their way into the building.

"What about the Mayor and the others?" Lex asked once the doors shut behind them.

Clark grinned knowing how hard it must have been for Lex to keep quiet as long as he had. "They'll be taken through the back of the stage and in the side entrance. They should be here in a minute."

"How come I wasn't taken that way?" he wanted to know.

"Originally you were supposed to be but after that little speech you gave I thought it better if you left from the front and in plain sight."

"And why would you think that?" If anything Lex thought that Clark would have wanted him as far away from the crowd as possible, not parading in front of it.

"Because it would have looked like you were running, afraid of the people you just declared allies and vowed to lead. Not really an image you want plastered all over the news."

Lex was desperately trying to keep a straight face but this was just too good. "So you waited to call the guards until we were out of camera range making it look like I have complete trust in the citizens of Metropolis while everybody else looks like cowards scampering away to safety. Is that about it Clark"

It sounded kinda underhanded when Lex said it like that but... "Yeah, pretty much."

"Damn Clark, that's positively evil," Lex said grinning in approval. "I knew there was a reason I kept you around."

Clark gave an overly dramatic pout. "And I thought it was because of my charm and stunning good looks."

"Well, that too," Lex agreed before he could stop himself.

For a second it looked like Clark wanted to say something but then he shook it off and asked if they were going straight on to the tour.

"I'm hoping to. I'd like to get this over with so we can relax a little before tonight," Lex was saying just as the rush of guests flooded the lobby.

Security and police were still escorting them but they didn't seem to mind or even notice. They were talking, gesturing wildly, and making a beeline for Lex. Figuring it was safe enough inside the building Clark stepped back and tried to make himself as unnoticeable as possible.

He was looking for Bennett to make sure there wasn't any trouble when he saw movement off to the side. Clark turned just in time to see a man push by the Mayor and level a gun at Lex. Clark didn't even think, he just moved. Stepping in front of Lex he reached out a hand as the crack of the gun echoed off the walls. The bullet that would have fatally ripped into its original target was harmless when caught in the palm of his hand.

Clark knew he was probably moving faster than he should be but he didn't care. All he cared about was that Lex could have been killed. The rage and fear that shot through him at just the thought of it was startling, but Clark ignored it. With another quick movement he grabbed the guy's wrist snapping it as he shoved him into the nearby pillar. The man dropped the gun and screamed once before falling unconscious.

Turning around and scanning Lex to make sure he wasn't hurt Clark tried to get himself under control. He couldn't even recognize all the emotions he was feeling. Although one that was pretty clear was anger. Clark was seriously pissed off. How could this of happened? How did this guy get passed the security that Lex had claimed was the best in the business? And where the hell was Bennett?


Seeing the small army of guards swarm the shooter Clark barely acknowledged the shocked and awed tone that Lex said his name in.

"In a second," Clark told him surprised at the harshness of his own voice. Slipping the flattened and useless bullet into his pocket Clark rounded on the man that was now approaching Lex. Clark blocked his path even as he recognized him.

"Where were you?" Clark demanded of Bennett in a tone that was clearly threatening. "And why the fuck weren't you doing your job?"

The part of Clark that wasn't absolutely terrified was pleased to see the large, fully trained, fully armed man take an uncertain step away from him.

"Mr. Luthor..."

He tried to speak to Lex but Clark interrupted. "Was nearly killed because you let a lunatic with a gun in a building that was supposed to be secured."

Bennett squared he shoulders and got right in Clark's face. "You'd better control yourself boy," he warned. Right or not, Bennett wasn't about to let a kid talk to him like that.

Clark had to admit the man was huge and he supposed anybody else would have been intimidated. But Clark wasn't just anybody and he hadn't been intimidated by anyone for a very long time. Some of that must have shown on his face because even before Clark spoke the man was backing off.

"I am," Clark said as calmly as if he was talking about the weather, "controlling myself that is. And you'd better be thankful for it because that and the fact that Lex is unhurt are the only two reasons you're still breathing."

With that he turned his back dismissing Bennett and for the first time saw all the people being kept at bay by the rest of the guards. As distracted as they had been Clark doubted that they noticed how he'd caught the bullet but they were still curious, scared, and every last one of them was staring at Lex for an explanation. Clark knew they'd never be able to leave until they got one so he nodded to the crowd and mouthed `say something' to Lex.

Lex just gave him an incredulous look and hissed, "Like what?"

Which was conformation enough that at least one person had seen what he'd done. Clark was almost relieved. He had always hated lying to Lex and he wasn't going to do it anymore. For the first time in his life Clark was ready to tell the truth and damn the consequences.

Bending close so he wouldn't be overheard Clark whispered, "I'll explain Lex, I swear. But right now I want you up in the penthouse where you're safe. So just tell them the guy missed, you're fine, the tour's postponed, the party's on, and that Bennett will make sure everybody's okay."

Stepping back Lex looked at him in a mixture of doubt and hope before pulling the Luthor mask in place and addressing the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, I assure you that everything is under control and being taken care of. Thanks to lousy aim and the quick actions of everyone involved nobody has been hurt. I'm afraid the tour will have to be postponed but the party will continue as planned. I hope to see all of you there but until then I must leave you in the capable hands of Metropolis Police and LexCorp Security."

As soon as Lex started walking the bodyguards surrounded him like living armor and parted the crowd. Clark was right next to him, not trusting anybody but himself to protect Lex. Even in the elevator ride up to the penthouse Clark was hovering nervously and wishing that he had told the guards to stay downstairs. He was wired and worried and he really didn't want anybody else around.

He was about to say something to that effect when Lex stopped outside the apartment and told the guards he wanted them stationed in the hall and the floors below but not in the penthouse. When the men took up their positions Lex went to open the door but Clark stopped him with a hand on his wrist.

"Let me check it out first," he said but when he made no move to go in Lex raised an eyebrow in question. Clark didn't say anything. He just shrugged figuring he'd be explaining it all soon enough and let his vision shift to see the inside of the apartment. Satisfied that it was empty and safe he pushed the door open and gestured Lex in.

Lex was pacing back and forth across the living room with his jacket and tie stripped off before Clark even shut the door. Standing with the couch between them Clark reluctantly broke the silence. "Lex?"

Steps never faltering Lex shook his head. "Just... gimmie a minute Clark. I need to think."

Not saying anything Clark found himself relaxing a little as he watched his friend make his way from one side of the room to the other. This was familiar. He was used to Lex pacing his way to answers and solutions when Clark hadn't even known there were any questions, let alone problems. Besides it gave him a minute to collect himself and figure out how much he was going to tell.

Everything, he decided instantly. His parents were going to completely freak but Clark didn't care. He'd deal with that later. Right now he needed to do this, needed to tell Lex the truth. They'd been lying to each other for too long and for the sake of their friendship, it had to stop.

Taking a break from pacing Lex poured a drink and downed it in one gulp. He must have felt it when Clark was going to say something because he held up a hand. "One more minute," he said almost desperately.

Lex couldn't think. The day had started out so good and had turned so spectacularly bad that he couldn't believe it. Someone just tried to kill him. And okay, it's not exactly the first time somebody's tried to kill him but it's definitely the first time somebody's tried to assassinate him.

And God, Clark. Clark right there protecting Lex just like he always did. Stepping in front of a fucking bullet to protect him and for one terrifying moment Lex thought it was over. Thought that Clark was going to die saving him. But Clark's not dead. Not only, not dead but also not even hurt, although Lex knows the bullet hit him. Just like he knows the Porsche hit him four years ago.

So Clark's been lying to him from day one. But really that's also something that Lex has known... and allowed. And it's not like he has any right to be mad since he's done his share of lying over the years. But apparently that's over with now because Clark has finally offered him the answers that he's wanted for... well, it seems like forever. All he had to do is ask.

Carefully setting down the glass Lex turned around to find Clark waiting patiently and looking like he was about to throw up. Lex knew the feeling.

"You ready for this?" Lex asked him.

Clark had to clear his throat twice before he was able to make sounds that resembled anything like words. "Yeah. But just so you know, this honest thing goes both ways and it doesn't stop tonight."

"I kinda figured."

"Okay then," Clark said taking a deep breath. "Ask."

"You lied to me."

It wasn't a question so Clark gave him a non-answer. "We lied to each other."

Now that that was out in the open it was time for a real question. "He shot you."

It was still more of a statement that Lex wanted confirmed than a question he wanted answered but Clark seemed to understand. Digging in his pocket Clark walked right up to him and held out a fisted hand. When Lex didn't move Clark reached out, took his hand turning it palm up, and dropped in it one flat but clearly recognizable bullet.

Lex blanched. He had known but apparently knowing and seeing were two very different things. Jesus fucking Christ. It really happened. He hadn't imagined it. Clark actually caught a bullet with his bare hand. The guy hadn't missed. Which means that the cops and his security were currently looking for a stray bullet and hole that wasn't there.

Shit. Lex had to do something. There would be questions for them both when it wasn't found and the last thing he wanted were strangers asking questions about Clark's involvement in the shooting. Still staring at the ruined piece of metal Lex pulled out his cell phone and for the first time understood why Jonathan Kent kept such a tight leash on Clark. The boy didn't think, he just reacted. And although it usually saved someone's life it put Clark in danger. Well, Lex was just going to have to take care of that.

"Bennett," Lex barked into the phone. "I don't care how you do it but I don't want the cops investigating the shooting. Be polite, be vague, but be insistent. Tell them LexCorp will handle it and get them the fuck out of my building. If they've gathered any questionable evidence I want it. Do you understand? Good."

Hanging up Lex tossed the phone on the couch and stared pacing again trying to ignore the worried look on Clark's face. Okay so Lex just appointed himself Clark's protector. But that seemed more than fitting considering that Clark has been his since he pulled Lex out of that damn river. The way he figured it this just made them even.

Okay back to the questions. Lex kept walking as he asked. "You're pretty much indestructible, right?"

Clark nodded.

"And let me guess, really strong and really fast?"

Another nod.

Lex was almost afraid to ask. "What else?"

"Umm, really good hearing, x-ray and heat vision. And I... sorta float sometimes."

Jesus. But its okay Lex could handle this. "Are you a mutant?"

"Alien." Clark corrected.

"Alien." Lex repeated it slowly, letting it's meaning sink in. It didn't really come as too much of a shock. Lex remembered Hamilton's reports and the story told by a drunken crop duster, so the possibility had crossed his mind on occasion. But... Wow, a real alien.

The scientist in him was screaming, study it study it, but was quickly beaten into submission by the part if him that Clark always seemed to bring out. The part very few people thought was there. The part that had him anonymously donating ridiculous amounts of money to the children's hospital and homeless shelters. It was the part of him that still wanted to do great things but not by destroying everyone in his path. The same part that would kill or die before doing anything to hurt Clark.

So, no he wouldn't study it because it was a him. It was Clark. Clark who was a good person, the type of person that everyone wants or wants to be. And how ironic was it that the most human person Lex had ever met wasn't human at all.

Lex had to laugh. Stopped in the middle of his living room in the penthouse of the newly christened LexCorp Towers and laughed until he couldn't breathe. It really wasn't funny but he had to do something to release the flood of emotions that this day had caused. So it was cry, yell, or laugh.

It wasn't a matter of which to choose. Luthors never cry and Lex never yells at Clark so he was reduced to holding his sides and giggling helplessly after his very first assassination attempt was thwarted by his very own ET. God lord, this could only happen to him.

Shaking his head Lex caught a glimpse of Clark and realized that ET was on the verge of tears. And that, more than anything, reminded Lex that along with being bulletproof Clark had always been sensitive, had always felt too deeply and usually got hurt because of it.

"Clark, I don't mean to laugh but this is all kinda much," Lex tried to explain. When Clark didn't say anything he asked, "Are you okay?"

Clark let out a choked No and Lex felt like he just kicked a puppy. "You know I'd never do anything to hurt you, right? That's why I told Bennett to get rid of the cops, to protect you, not to hurt you."

"I know," Clark said not noticing or not caring when a tear slipped down his cheek.

Lex couldn't stop himself from walking over and gently brushing it away. "Then what's wrong? Why are you crying?"

Clark gave him a shadow of a smile. "This is just all kinda much," he said echoing the words Lex had used.

This was a perfect example of the differences between Luthors and Kents. Kents were allowed to cry. But Jesus Lex didn't want Clark to cry. He knew the boy wanted, needed to be comforted and he also knew the best way to do it was through contact. Clark was a physical person, always used touch as a means of communication. It was another difference between them. Luthors gave speeches, Kents hugged, and never the twain shall meet.

But then again maybe they already had. After all they'd met by touch before they met with words. That and four years of pats, pokes, nudges, and hugs had pretty much gotten rid of Lex's soul-deep dislike of contact, at least when it came to Clark. He still flinched away from other people unless he made a conscious effort not to but with Clark he didn't mind. He rarely initiated it but he always allowed it, even enjoyed it.

So once again there really wasn't a decision to make. Clark was upset. He needed a hug, needed someone to tell him everything was going to be okay. And although he hadn't actually asked, his eyes were practically begging for Lex to be that person. Lex had never been able to deny Clark anything so he didn't even hesitate to open his arms.

"C'mere," Lex ordered softly.

Clark didn't realize how scared he'd been until Lex offered him solace in a hug. He couldn't even think about not accepting, just wrapped his arms around Lex and tried not to cry on his friend's two hundred-dollar shirt. He felt Lex rubbing small calming circles on his back and was unbelievably grateful.

He knew Lex didn't like to give or be given physical comfort so just the fact that he was making the effort made Clark feel better. When Lex started saying, "It's okay. I'll make sure everything's okay," Clark buried his face in his friend's neck and was absolutely horrified to hear himself ask, "You promise?"

Lex didn't seem to think the question inappropriate though because he just hugged Clark tighter and said, "I promise."

Clark sagged in relief. Maybe he shouldn't trust Lex as much as he did, but he couldn't help it. He needed at least one person he could go to where he didn't have to be the strong one. Someone to take care of things when Clark couldn't do it himself. Lex could be that person, Lex wanted to be that person. And if Clark were honest, Lex had already been that person for nearly four years now.

Yeah, everything is going to be okay Clark thought as he burrowed closer into his friend. After all, Lex had promised and Lex never breaks his promises, not to Clark anyway.